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Frank Roberts: a true pro to the very end

I never had the honor or the privilege to meet Frank Roberts. Never shook his hand; never looked him squarely in the eyes.

However, I knew him for the majority of my near 64 years on this Earth.

It was 50-odd years ago when I first learned of Frank Roberts. I was a young teen, growing up in a household where my now late father was a subscriber and avid reader of the Virginian Pilot and Ledger Star. Perhaps that’s where my love of newspapers actually began.

At that time, Frank Roberts was a writer at the Pilot. His beat was the world of entertainment and through his words I had the chance to learn about the musical stars of that era as they visited the Hampton Roads area for concerts. Frank, with trusty pen in hand and a knack for telling a good story, interviewed the likes of the Oak Ridge Boys, the Statler Brothers, Patti Page, Roy Acuff, Conway Twitty, Mel Tillis, and the like.

He also interviewed the stars of the big screen. I recall one column when he sat down with the legendary Ava Gardner.

I envied the job Frank had, always envisioning that was me sitting across from those stars and jotting down their individual life stories.

As I grew older and eventually moved away from home, I left the Pilot and Frank Roberts in my rear view mirror. There were other mountains to climb; other scenery to enjoy.

Frank re-entered my life about six years ago. Our newest publication at that time – Front Porch Living magazine – was still in its infant stages, but somehow one had landed in Frank’s hands over in the town of Hertford where he had retired. He contacted me about penning a story for the magazine regarding the Jim “Catfish” Hunter Museum, located in that Perquimans County town. Of course, being a baseball fan, Frank knew of Jim’s connection to Ahoskie, so it was an easy decision to make to allow him to submit the article.

From that point forward, Frank began submitting a weekly column to this newspaper and the rest, as they say, is history. Never would I imagine that a man I considered a writing genius from my childhood would one day become a regular contributor to the publication where I served as Editor.

His weekly offerings in this newspaper covered a wide range of topics, mostly nostalgic. From time to time his column centered on another of his loves – classic Western movies (especially those of the “B” grade variety). He praised the likes of Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, Randolph Scott, Gabby Hayes and others, remembering them all from his visits as a child to movie theaters in his hometown of New York City. Not only did I miss the opportunity of meeting Frank, but so did my dad….who weaved his own stories about seeing all those cowboy stars on the big screen when he was growing up. He and Frank could have talked for days on end about those flicks.

I knew that Frank’s health was on the decline due to a few simple messages he shared in emails over the past year or so. In one, he said, “I continue my old bone/arthritis fight and the victim now is my left shoulder to mid-arm. Every time I hit a (computer) key, the old man pain socks in.”  In another email he wrote: “Yippee, I’ve been promoted from a cane to a walker.”

Typical for Frank…..funny as heck and still a great writer to the very end.

Frank Marvin Roberts died March 15 at the hospital over in Elizabeth City. He was 88 years old.

Today, somewhere in a corner up in heaven, Frank is sharing his life’s journey and weaving tales about movie stars and singers to a whole new audience. Rest in peace, my friend….and give my best to Roy, Conway, Mel, and “Catfish.”

Cal Bryant is the Editor of Roanoke-Chowan Publications. Contact him at cal.bryant@r-cnews.com or 252-332-7207.   

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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