Frank Deford — one of the most famous (and elegant) sportswriters of all time — has died. He was 78, and lived in Key West and New York.
But for many years, Deford was a Westporter. It was here that he wrote many of his 20 books, and some of the most important pieces in his 50-year career at Sports Illustrated. He spent 37 years as an NPR “Morning Edition” commentator, and recorded most of those stories just up the road, at WSHU’s Bridgeport studio.
It was in Westport too that his daughter Alex was raised, went to Greens Farms Elementary School and died, of cystic fibrosis. She was just 8.
Deford turned that tragedy into a poignant book and movie, called “Alex: The Life of a Child.” He also served as national chair of the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, from 1982 to 1999.
After Alex’s death, Deford and his wife Carol adopted a girl, Scarlet, from the Philippines. Their oldest child, Christian, graduated from Staples High School.
Deford won countless honors. He was most proud of the National Humanities Medal, awarded in 2013 by President Obama.
In 2013, President Obama awarded Frank Deford the National Humanities Medal. He was the 1st sportswriter to earn that honor.
But he was also a local presence. He spoke at the Westport Library, and was a reader — in that voice familiar to so many NPR listeners — at Christ & Holy Trinity Episcopal Church.
Deford had a remarkable career. But though he hit plenty of grand slams, he wouldn’t be human if he never struck out.
In 1990, he was editor-in-chief of a new launch, The National: America’s 1st-ever daily sports newspaper.
It folded after 18 months. One of its many obstacles was distribution. Deford even had to cancel his own home delivery when not enough Greens Farms neighbors signed up.
But he had great fun trying to make a go of the National. (The final front-page headline: “We Had a Ball: The Fat Lady Sings Our Song.”)
The paper — and he — covered every sport imaginable.
Including soccer. Which — as every NPR listener knew — he hated.
A few months after The National began, I asked him — only half-jokingly — why he got to cover the World Cup in Italy, instead of a true soccer aficionado like me.
Deford was very tall. He looked down at me, both physically and journalistically.
He gave me a semi-smile.
“When you run The National,” he said, “then you can cover the World Cup.”
Frank Deford covered it all, in a storied and story-filled life.
His many fans — and his former neighbors — will miss him greatly.