Frank Fay, a reporter for the Norwalk Hour for 50 years, died recently. I first met him in my second year as a Spanish teacher in Room 105A at Norwalk High School. That year, Lewis E. Dunlap was appointed the principal after problems that arose at the school. His job was to establish order. I believed in his approach and touted the school’s potential and virtues. I helped him to develop a new motto, Norwalk High School Home of Pride Intensified.
Mr. Dunlap, as he was called, invited me, a teacher, to become the official Norwalk High School non-paid Public Relations Director of the school. I was thrilled. My first assignment was to organize the June graduation including supervising the press.
Francis X. Fay Jr. was the long time and revered education reporter of The Hour at the time. As the graduation pomp and circumstance was about to begin, I was busy directing the media. There was Frank, a little twinkle in his eye and prepared to report the most unique and touching stories from the graduates as he had for so long. I introduced myself and told him where he and the press would be seated for the ceremony. It did not go over well.
This began a 44-year love affair with Francis X. Fay Jr. Ten years my elder, he taught me so much about attention to detail. “When you write a press release, Sue,” he would declare, “remember all the answers to who, what, where, when and why.” This regard for detail has been a part of my work first with the schools, then as a consultant and an author ever since.
I was promoted as the Public Affairs Officer of the Norwalk Public Schools in 1983, a position I held for 15 years. Frank was always at my side with a listening ear, advice, advocacy and caring. Oh yes, we clashed on occasion, but it was based on admiration and love. There were no barriers to our long discussions. After Norwalk historian Ralph Bloom, no one in Norwalk knew more about the history of the city he loved and its people than Frank. His vast knowledge amazed me.
In January 1986, I accompanied four high school juniors to the launch of the Space Shuttle Challenger sponsored by Norden Systems, a subsidiary of United Technologies. The Hour sent Frank to accompany our trip and to report daily to readers about the incredible experience. We were all in the VIP stands at Cape Canaveral when the Challenge exploded on Jan. 28, 1986 at 11:38 a.m. My students were in shock. I was, too. We rushed to get out of the area and the falling debris and headed back to the airport. There were no cell phones at the time. I had only one priority. Get to a pay phone and let the parents know that their children were safe, and I was bringing them home. Frank, the consummate reporter, had a different idea. He was horrified with the pay phone delay I had caused. He had a story to file.
It would be another 11 months before Frank confided his admiration for the role that I played that day. It meant so much to me. That was the Frank I knew — caring, emotional, tender. Beneath the tough skin of a reporter with a deadline was an incredible and loving man. I am not sure that everyone knew that side of him.
Last summer we met for lunch at a table by the Falls at Mediterraneo in Norwalk. Frank was late. He was always late. We talked about life in Norwalk, my career, his old car, and even though he still ordered his favorite lunchtime cocktail, I knew that he was in poor health. He thanked me for always sending a card on his birthday. As we departed, I wondered if I would ever see my friend again. Frank’s contribution as a reporter and his love for Norwalk are impossible to equate. His friendship will have a lasting effect on me forever.
Susan G. Weinberger