ON HOME GROUND Frank Navin with his son Patrick, and daughter-in-law Carol, pictured outside the former family home on Mill Street, where he was reared. Pic: Frank Dolan
Frank Navin may have lived in the USA for the last 70 years but he is still a Covie at heart
“I just love coming home” was the simple reason given by 91-year-old Frank Navin for explaining why he continues to travel from his home in California to Westport for the annual Covie Week celebrations.
A native of Mill Street in Westport, Frank left the town he loves so well in 1949, initially for Chicago where he worked in the Oak Park Fire Department until his retirement in 1981. Along with his wife of 65 years, Mary Jo, they moved to the warmer climes of the coastal city of Half Moon Bay, 40km south of San Francisco, where he currently lives.
Despite living 70 years of his life in the US, he still calls Westport his home and for the past 14 years he returns every second year, specially to participate in Covie Week.
“My wife is 87 and doesn’t travel and I keep telling her her ‘no more - this is my last trip’ but I’ve been saying that to her since 2005. We missed the first Covie Week in 2003, we had a wedding in Tennessee, but we came in 2005 and now I come every two years since then. My son Patrick comes with me every time and on one occasion we brought 20 of our family, including children and grandchildren, which was very special.
“It is important to me to keep coming, I meet a lot of old friends and I enjoy talking to everyone. Of course, a lot of old friends have passed away but I wouldn’t miss it for anything, I love coming here,” he told The Mayo News last week.
During this year’s Covie Week, Frank was reciting stories in Blouser’s Pub for the Tea, Cake and Poetry afternoon and laughs that he was warned to ‘keep them clean’.
One of the old friends to have passed away since his last visit in 2017 was Martin Curry, former editor of The Mayo News, and one of the founders of Covie Week.
“Martin was a great guy, we would have lots of fun with Martin. We miss Martin, he was really something special,” he recalls.
One of six children born to Frank and Bridget Navin, his family ran a construction and undertakers business on Mill Street - the undertakers is now run by his cousin Tom Navin. Educated in the Christian Brothers National School, Frank enlisted in the RAF in January 1946 where he trained as flight mechanic, serving for two years before heading to the US. The Korea War started in June 1950 and so he enlisted in the US Air Force for four years.
In 1952 he was giving flying status and flew on the Korean Airlift transporting troops and supplies from bases around Asia and the Pacific to the Korean peninsula. He enjoyed his time in the air force, never feeling his life was in danger and after four years he was honourably discharged as a staff sergeant.
He returned to Chicago, where he trained as a plasterer before joining the Fire Department where he worked for 20 years.
“I worked 24 hours on and 48 off and on days off I would work plastering. I had to - I had four kids and got them all through college,” he explained.
During that time he only made sporadic returns to Ireland but thanks to Covie Week he now has the opportunity to return more frequently. Every time he returns, he stays in The Boulevard B&B on The Mall and cannot speak highly enough for his hosts, John and Sadie Moran.
“They are unbelievable people they are so nice. My daughter picked it out and we have been coming here ever since and we send friends here when they are coming over. We can’t say enough for John and Sadie,” he said.
Despite his age, Frank is a hale and hearty 91-year-old who back in California continues to volunteer for 30 hours a week with the San Mateo County Sheriff. Despite what he tells his wife Mary, when he returns to the US, he feels he has another trip in him.
“I always tell my wife that this is my last trip but I’m in great shape and feel fine. I hope to make the return trip in two years.”