"Who's got it better than us?" Fran Farrell used to say, and when it involved a dance with his mother, Annemarie, or time with his family, he lived by that statement,
May 18, 2022

As a confidant and a company leader, Fran Farrell preferred to be a friend

It never is a bad thing to be connected to a confidant who is saturated in humility. Especially when the world in which you are immersed begins to feel overrun with overinflated egos that sadly think they have starring roles in The Big Picture.

The crazy thing, though, is that Fran Farrell – a prince of a man who died May 10 after having brought beauty and a sense of calm into a world that desperately needs it – was more a confidant and friend after he stopped being a boss. Not that he chose to stop being the CEO and President of Turnstile Media Group which included that frenzied little corner of the golf universe that was my home, Golfweek magazine.

No, it was fate that intervened in 2012 and forced Fran from our small shop of passionate and talented people who loved golf, lived golf, debated golf, breathed golf.

One might suggest that there was the matter of his ALS that required diligent attention; my take is, he wanted to use every minute of what remained in his magnificent life to commit more energy to loving his place and helping those around him understand and appreciate theirs.

That was one of the many glories of Fran. His embrace of life went beyond the office, the work, the grind, and he was determined to show us how much more there was to this earthly world.

“He had a unique lens that he saw things through,” said John Farrell, one of nine children, and four sons, born to Dr. Joseph and Annemarie Cowhig Farrell, who raised this marvelous family in Pittsfield, Mass.

Good gracious, how Dr. Joseph and Annemarie must have had a magic formula, using Fran and John as measuring sticks. Hugely successful, the both of them – Fran in the publishing world, John as Director of Sports at Sea Pines Resort on Hilton Head Island, S.C. – my guess is, neither of them could spell the word “I.”

On those times when my Golfweek assignment would be the PGA Tour tournament at Harbour Town, Fran would gush about his younger brother. When in John’s company, he’d generate conversations with every employee who’d walk by and drop hints as to how proud the family was of Fran’s career.

The thing is, Fran’s remarkable run as an executive with publications such as Food & Wine, Travel & Leisure, The Sporting News, National Geographic Adventure, and Men’s Journal was never used to foster his ego.

The time he presented an award from TSN to Michael Jordan? His family found out about it, but not from Fran. When he chose not to use his position at Golfweek and spend company money to get himself into pro-ams and those chic cocktail parties with golf’s movers and shakers? It cut to the heart of the man.

“He was anxious to get home (the night of the trophy presentation to Jordan) to his family. Those weren’t the wins that sustained him. He got his buzz in other ways,” said John.

Fran’s departure was a shock to us in 2012. It came at a time when the entire print world was being re-imagined, and in my view we were being left without a captain who had two hands on the wheel, plus a calm demeanor, and a quiet confidence.

Sizing up my fears the last time we ever talked in person, Fran basically said that quality would always be in style, that passion was a virtue. Then he added, quietly and assuredly, that it’s always good to enrich your soul and add depth to your life.

Of that, he was an expert; Fran, married for 38 years to Denise and the father of five, was a man who biked, who hiked, who skied exquisitely, who played golf, and loved the ocean. Great strength and massive determination allowed him to live as he chose and for all those times when Fran needed more nourishment, he had his faith and his daily devotionals.

Knowing that about him and that “his professional life is what he did, it wasn’t who he was,” as John said, my emails to him in recent years – far too few, shamefully – were never about golf or golf-writing. Faith, family, and sincere thanks for those great times at Golfweek were pretty much the topics that united us.

It was a marvel to know that Fran used an eye gaze-controlled tablet to read and to respond to emails. Always, his responses were beautiful, his curiosity piqued about the lives around me.

“He was,” said John, “a good listener.”

If you want the embodiment of family love and Fran’s endless quest to touch your soul and remind you of his mantra – “Don’t let anyone have more fun than you” – consider what Wednesday nights have been for the last 18 months: A zoom session for Fran and his eight siblings.

Laughter was shared weekly. Fran would challenge his siblings. Devotions were read. The family met via Zoom again on May 11, “but we had an empty seat at the table,” said John.

Fran Farrell, who personified courage and dignity, had died the night before.

It prompted a search for something by which to remember him, the last email he sent my way. Responding to my thanks for all he meant to my career and to the inspiration he had been, Fran singled out my reflections about the challenges of parenthood and the turbulent roads on which that task takes us.

“Even the most wonderful parents aren’t promised painless lives,” he wrote. “Exhibit A is the Pietà. But all of us who accept Christ’s support, have it. And we muddle through! Hopefully with far more happiness than rough stuff.”

It's a powerful image from a mentor in golf and a friend in life.