April 2012 Volume 9

Frankie Tenn - More than Just the Facts

Ray Ford
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Few who knew him would disagree that Frankie Tenn was one of the most engaging personalities to ever walk through the gates of Kingston College. To most, his mind was like a sponge, absorbing knowledge of all that was around him, and dispensing it liberally to all within an earshot. At the celebration of his life held in Toronto on February 19th last, his good friend Barry Huie aptly described him as `a giver’. And thank goodness, Kingston College was one of his greatest benefactors.

Like the historian he was, Frankie was a stickler for the facts. But he was more. He was a family man, a scholar, track & field enthusiast, organizer, leader, horticulturalist, photographer, philanthropist, visionary, and a lot more. In essence, he had an insatiable inquisitiveness about life.

His most visible support to Kingston College might have been to track & field teams in the late 60’s and 70’s on his return to Jamaica after graduate studies in Canada. It was one of his passions, and on weekdays, it drew him and his stopwatch religiously to Clovelly Park to observe and to encourage. For endurance training of some, he would on Sunday mornings, transport those in his trawl to Harbor Head for the early-morning run to the Palisadoes lighthouse. But Frankie liked schoolboy cricket and football as well.

His passion for the sport and his good people skills did not go unnoticed as he rose to serve at the national level. He was made honorary secretary of the Jamaica Amateur Athletic Association (JAAA) in 1971, helped to found the Gibson Relays in 1973, managed the schoolboy track contingent to the Barrientos Memorial Games in Cuba that same year, and was instrumental in getting the G.C. Foster College off the ground. And for good measure, his recall of Olympic records and feats was unparalleled. For these and numerous other contributions to the field, he was honored by the KC Old Boys New York Chapter in 2007.  

By profession, Frankie was a chemical engineer, having gained the Masters of Science degree in the field in 1960 in Toronto, Canada. On his return to Jamaica he worked as a process engineer at Alcan where he was president of the Kirkvine Sports Club, Carib Cement, Esso West Indies Oil Company and Industrial Chemicals.

His keenness on helping KC students realize their academic dreams led him in 2007 to explore along with other KC Old Boys, opportunities at City University of New York (CUNY). He was definitely a big-picture man. Speaking of which, Tenn had a love for photography, and this love complemented his love for horticulture. He captured in many shots nature’s finest blooms. Also, at the yearly KCOB Dinner/Dance in Toronto Frankie would make his digital photo rounds, using only delicate hand signals to corral his subjects.

As a leader, he helped to chart courses for the KCOB Toronto Chapter, the Kirkvine Sports Club in Jamaica, and as one would imagine, any organization that he was involved with, because Frankie was no back-bencher. His fertile mind was always ticking with positive ideas on how to move things forward, and he wasn’t afraid to posit them.

Tenn was a great conversationalist. Legend has it, that on the drive from Toronto to New York in 2007 for the dinner-dance at which he was honored, he held his fellow passengers spell-bound with riveting conversation for the entire journey. Many knew they were in for a long fact-finding haul whenever Frankie opened up with:  “Tell mi something, what do you think of so and so…?’ But that was Tenn. He had a photographic recall for Olympic feats, memorable soccer World Cups and heroics in cricket. He held strong opinions, but he was not unilateral. He was a keen listener and willing to trim his sails. If your position made sense, slow nods of the head and wide-open eyes would be accompanied by a pensive ‘I see.’ But if you did not, then you might be on the receiving end of a `kiss-teeth’ swiftly followed by a dismissive but non-malicious, `nonsense’.

But Frankie was not only keen on discussing sports, he was a patriot and had his beloved homeland Jamaica at heart. He kept abreast of news in Jamaica and on gleaning anything of import, one of his favorite questions would be, “how would you solve Jamaica’s problem?” His perspectives were never political, always humanistic and pragmatic.

At the memorial, Frankie’s daughter Natalie, son Gary and grandson spoke of him as a loving attentive father and grandfather. And the montage rolling behind, showing Frankie in playful modes, left no doubt.   

The Kingston College fraternity has lost a stalwart. We share this loss with his family, but are also thankful that he walked our way.

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