One month ago today I was in the middle of one of the most difficult weeks I’ve ever experienced, watching my father waste away at a palliative care unit in Longueuil, Qc.
Frank Deegan passed away January 18th 2006, at the age of 75. Dad gave us a final gift for which I will always be grateful: time. Time for his entire family to get to know each other better than ever before and grow together. Time for all of us to show him all our love and say goodbye.
In honor of my father, and for all who missed the memorial and others who requested them, I’m adding the text of my November letter to dad which I read as well as a transcription of Shannon’s thoughtful and touching words.
Letter to my father, Patrick Deegan
Who is Frank Deegan? I’m not certain…
He was a boxer, a salesman, a people person, a professional scout, at times a conman, he was "the machine". Frank Deegan is the father of five, he is my father, and many other things. But what are his passions, his unfulfilled dreams, what worries wake him in the night? In the more than three decades that I’ve known him, there’s much I regret I’ve never learned. What I do know best of my father are the things he’s given me: what he taught me and, more importantly, the man he made me.
I am a very different person than he. I’m not an athlete or even a sports fan. I’m not a parent. I can hardly put a name to a face. And yet, I am very much my father’s son. The lessons he taught me, through his stories and his actions, are a part of me every single day.
Frank could be stone cold with others but at the same time his heart would melt at the sight of our dog pleading for a snack. For the lucky few in his inner circle, his family, he would make any sacrifice. He showed me that, no matter where you go or what you do, family comes first.
Since my earliest memories Frank has been the definition of worry, always thinking of his next move or anxious about his children’s well being. And yet, in the toughest of times he’d lay down his last dollar—literally—with no regard for the future so we could have some measure of fun. Smiling, he’d say "Between having $10 and nothing… what’s the difference?" and we’d go and spend it on something frivolous and enjoyable. In this, he taught me to cherish the now and live each day to the fullest.
With a wink, he’d profess "What your eyes see, your heart must believe" and then proceed to show me how the world was in fact a subtle, multi-layered place where most things actually aren’t what they appear.
He taught me a formula to ground me when things are going well and to bring joy in hard times: "This, too, shall come to pass." It was a reflection of his unending tenacity and it taught me to never surrender.
More than all else, Frank was always a boundless reserve of absolute, unconditional love and confidence. Though I’ve done my share of admittedly stupid things, in his eyes I could do no wrong. Ever. What some might believe a recipe for spoiled brats turned instead into a cornerstone of my personality: a limitless inner store of strength and self assurance. It unlocked the greatest secret of life that I know, embodied by the constant echo of his voice saying "You can do ANYTHING." It is the foundation on which all my past and future successes lie. For that, more than anything, I thank him.
Frank Deegan is my father and you will always be able to see him here, standing behind the best parts of me.
I love you dad.
Reflections on Uncle Frankie, Shannon Deegan
I would like to first offer my sincerest condolences to Dallas and all of Uncle Frankie’s children. And to his brother and sisters. I had so hoped to be there to celebrate Uncle Frankie’s life and am disappointed I had to be in Vancouver today.
Fortunately, like many of us, I feel I had an opportunity to celebrate Frankie’s life on boxing day, where Uncle Frankie became the only person I know who had the opportunity to attend his own wake. What a wonderful evening that was. To be successful in anything, I think a person needs encouragement and the confidence of a strong network of supporters who offer advice, encouragement, and the knowledge, that should things go wrong, or should someone have a bad game, there’s always another day, another game. In life, we are lucky if we have a friend who offers that unconditional support, and while I have had the tremendous fortune of having parents who offered me that, I was doubly blessed to reap special love and support from Uncle Frankie.
Everyone no doubt has an anecdote about Uncle Frankie, and no doubt we’ll be telling them for the rest of our lives. But more than a story or two, I have a lifetime of memories of the man who had a tremendous impact on my childhood and, because it was such a major part of my childhood, on my hockey career, and my life. Anyone who spent time with Uncle Frankie quickly realized that he had an amazing ability to be completely blind when it came to the people he loved. They could do no wrong, and they could do anything. After my first exhibition game with the LA Kings skating alongside Wayne Gretzky, I rushed to the hotel to phone my folks, then Uncle Frankie. I relayed the awe of the several shifts I played on arguably the greatest player in history’s line. Cutting me off, in all sincerity and with deeply held conviction, Uncle Frankie gave me the following most amazingly ridiculous advice ever. Advice that makes me laugh to this day: Don’t be in awe of Gretzky, he barked, you’re as good as he is!
From the age of probably seven or eight until I went off to Vermont at age 17, Uncle Frankie was at my every game. Every time I stepped on the ice I would look up into the stands to find my mom and dad, and Uncle Frankie. While my parents were usually sitting quietly, I would usually spot Uncle Frankie up in the corner behind the last row off seats. He would be pacing up and down, talking in his famous "bop-bop-bop" style to the rink rats that owned that section of every rink. As I got older, those rink rats were more often than not, scouts. Eventually, Uncle Frankie joined their ranks, becoming a junior scout and then, to his and my great delight, an NHL scout working for the Buffalo Sabres’ Scotty Bowman.
A couple of years ago in New York, I attended a dinner for former pro-hockey players living in the city. I was delighted to see Scotty Bowman sit opposite me at the round table for ten. When we each introduced ourselves around the table, upon hearing my name, Scotty said: "Shannon Deegan from Verdun who played at Vermont?" "Yes," I replied, shocked that he remembered. After a few nice comments about seeing me play, Bowman turned to the rest of the table and declared: "This young man’s grandfather was the greatest left-handed pitcher I ever saw. I grew up watching Lefty Deegan play at Atwater Park in Montreal." Continuing, Scotty said, "And this young man’s uncle, Frankie, was one of the best scouts I ever hired. The guy would watch a hockey game, giving a running commentary on every player in the league while studiously watching the game. He sent me some of the best unsung players I ever had. He had a hand in building some of my Stanley Cup teams."
I relayed that story to Uncle Frankie when I last spent time with him at the hospital. He too beamed proudly and reached over and squeezed my hand. Suddenly, I found myself choking back tears. "Thank you for everything Uncle Frank. You have had a tremendous impact on my life. Thank you so much," I repeated, squeezing his hand.
And I repeat today: "Thank you so much, Uncle Frankie".
Francis James Deegan, 1930 - 2006
Notice published in the Montreal Gazette on 1/24/2006
Peacefully after a courageous battle with cancer on Wednesday, January 18, 2006 at the age of seventy-five. Beloved partner of Dallas Cuco. Devoted father of Julie (Dr. Gordon Miller), Brendan, Patrick (Helene), Marie-Pascale and Jonathan. Loving grandfather of Mathew, Erin, Christopher, Gabriel and Charlie. Will be sadly missed by his step children and step grandchildren. Survived by his brother Brendan (Katie) and his sisters Madeline and Kathy (Dan) and many nieces and nephews. Predeceased by his parents Sarah and Frank (Lefty), brothers Fred (Helen), David (Rita), Kevin (Roberta) and sisters Margaret (Ed) and Joan (Lu). The family will receive condolences at a Memorial Get-Together on Friday, January 27 from 2 p.m. until 7 p.m. at the Verdun Lawn Bowling Club, 6000 LaSalle Blvd. Verdun, Quebec.
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