Frank Deford Bids NPR Adieu

By Curator, Richard Johnson

Am I the only one who thinks the stylish Mr. Deford looks like a cross between Clark Gable and Tony Perkins character in “Tall Story?”

Always dressed to the nines in his custom made purple Turnball and Asser shirts, Jermyn Street suits and trademark purple ties the dashing scribe is one of the few people that can stop the conversation in any room he enters as those gathered ascertain whether they’ve just seen a movie star, magnate, or member of exiled royalty.

When President Obama honored Deford at a White House awards ceremony a few years back it was duly noted the leader of the free world made sure to wear his own purple tie in honor of his friend.


Surely I’m one of many thousands that rooted for his baby, “The National”, to make it as America’s first and only daily sports newspaper a quarter century ago. In fact I based a whole diet and exercise program on making the daily four mile round trip trek from The Sports Museum’s offices on Soldiers Field Road to Harvard Square’s Out of Town newsstand where they held a copy for me to be retrieved at lunchtime.

Please also count me as one of the boomer tribe that grew up reading his NBA pieces (mostly on the great Celtics teams of the sixties) and later his long form masterpieces in “Sports Illustrated.” Do yourself a favor and look up Bull Sullivan or Billy Conn in SI’s online vault and savor each paragraph.

Likewise his book on the brave battle waged by his precious daughter Alex against the ravages of cystic fibrosis helped spark a wave of philanthropy that will someday conquer the devil that claimed his angel.

Over the years Frank has been a great friend to The Sports Museum. In January of 1986 he joined his friend and fellow Lite Beer endorsee Dave Cowens on stage at Symphony Hall, sandwiched between sets by Bo Diddley and Roy Orbison, as a member of a Lite beer chorus which backed lead vocalist Celtics legend and then head coach KC Jones in a performance meant to curry the favor of bikini clad actress Lee Merriwhether.

All good fun and surely for a great cause as the museum cleared enough money from the sold out concert to begin renovations on our first home on Soldiers Field Road.

Two years later Deford attended both the private unveiling of Armand LaMontagne’s Larry Bird sculpture at the Ritz Carlton Hotel and later was present at the pre game Boston Garden public unveiling later that week.

Within days his cover story on Bird included photos of both unveiling ceremonies and helped move the museum, at least subliminally, from the back to the front burner in the mind of the sporting public.

I was touched this morning by Deford’s final NRP commentary which concluded 37 years and 1,656 such pieces. Always pithy, sometimes poignant and often hilarious Deford shares qualities embraced by those fellow typists who’ve endured and remain on their A game. For it is the brimming un-jaded enthusiasm and generous nature of writers, past and present, such as Bob Ryan, Lesley Visser, Bud Collins, Red Smith, Bill Littlefield, John Lardner, Bill Heinz, Steve Buckley, Bill Nack, John Schulian, Tim Horgan, Jackie McMullen, Peter Gammons, Charlie Pierce, Ron Borges, Kevin Paul Dupont, and Leigh Montville among many others that color their craft and make reading their prose such a privilege and joy.
It’s been but a year since we lost “Purple Rain” and now for devoted “Morning Edition” listeners such as myself we bid farewell to a different sort of, yes, I color my prose here in both a spirit and hue Frank would surely approve…. “Purple Reign.”

About the Curator’s Corner

Richard Johnson’s “Curator’s Corner” is  where you will find videos featuring Richard and Sports Museum Executive Director, Rusty Sullivan, discussing Boston sports history, as well as blog posts written by Richard himself.

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