CNBNewsnet(December 7, 2018)--Francis Michael Lordan, a retired newspaperman who had an abiding love for his church, country, comrades and craft, died Wednesday (Dec. 5) of congestive heart failure. He was 93 and lived at Phoebe Meadow Glen in Richlandtown Bucks County for the past three years. He had previously lived in the Cheltenham section of Philadelphia for 55 years.
For more than forty years Lordan’s byline over important stories was familiar to newspaper readers in Philadelphia and its environs and South Jersey.
He and his late sister, Mary Lordan, who never married, had both lived the previous 35 years in in the Swamp Poodle section of North Philadelphia where he was born in the family home.
An Army veteran of World War II, Frank had spent most of his career as a reporter and rewriteman at the Courier Post in Cherry Hill, NJ and the Philadelphia Inquirer. It was a storied and often exciting journey of more than four-decades, during which he also found time to mentor hundreds of young reporters. He also was a living database and usually an instant Rolodex of contacts for everyone else in the newsroom who needed on-the-spot historical facts and background to plug into articles about politics, business, law enforcement, local organizations and a long list of other subject areas and people.
“My uncle was a gentleman who believed in family, friends, his Country, and his Church. He was a newsman who was known for his word and tireless effort to seek and report the truth,” said his nephew, Michael Lordan. “He was proud of the stories he wrote, and the people he was able to help through his reporting, He had hundreds of stories that he loved to tell, but I think that it was his genuine love of people and his interest in them that was his true passion.”
“After a brief initial meeting, he would know every detail about your life, your family, friends, and your life history after meeting you for the first time. And if you were his friend, you were a friend for life and there is nothing that he wouldn’t do for you! For a guy that was less than five-and-a-half foot tall, he had a huge heart.”
A news hound to the last days of his life, Frank was still pouring over the New York Times every morning, reading books - he was a life-long, voracious reader - and in contact with reporter pals from the old days. He wasn’t an old timer wrapped up in reminiscing or any self-aggrandizing. He talked current news events and always had a strong personal take on them. His voice in his last years was as strong and memory as sharp as it was fifty years earlier. He retired at age 62.
Jimmy Riggio, now a businessman in Montana, worked with Frank on the Courier Post in the mid-1960s and later with him at the Inquirer in the early 1970s. Before leaving Philly for the Northwest, Riggio was a well-known, premiere investigative reporter for Philadelphia magazine.
Riggo, who maintained contact with Frank, recalled, “My first newspaper job, right out of journalism school at Temple University in the summer of 1965, was a dream. Like one of those old black-and-white movies with Humphrey Bogart. They were paying me the grand sum of ninety bucks a week. But I almost felt guilty taking the money because I was having so much fun...until I ran into Frank Lordan.”
“I’d be out in the field, covering a small story, having a blast. I’d find a payphone – they actually had them then – call the office and ask for the city desk. After I gave the city editor, or one of his assistants, the basics of what I learned on the scene, he would turn me over to Lordan on rewrite. All the joy would vanish. Frank would, inevitably, want for some information that wasn’t in ‘my story.’ And he would do his damnedest to get me to utter those three horrible words – ‘I don’t know.’ I swore the man was trying to prove I was a fraud and to get me fired.”
“It took me years to realize Frank was just trying to help turn me into a real reporter. Frank Lordan was a consummate journalist. But he was also a friend and, most importantly, Frank Lordan was a good man.”
Bob Fowler, a retired Inquirer reporter said, “Frank was a star reporter in an era when clusters of print reporters filled smoky city hall rooms jockeying for scoops. For a time in the 1970s he was the Inquirer's City Hall press bureau chief. If absent from the press room he was likely to be found in chambers gossiping with a judge about the latest political intrigue sweeping through city hall. Gifted with Irish banter, he quickly made friends with strangers, cultivating sources. His wonderful sense of irony and humor made him a natural at getting people to spill the beans.”
Frank Lordan was from that generation when words mattered a lot and there weren’t much padded nuances. He could tell you how the cow ate the cabbage and did, usually in sharp, clipped tones. But people could also tell you that on Frank’s word alone you could go to the moon and back.
Short and on the stocky side, Frank moved about the newsroom the way he talked; purposeful and at a quick step, whether taking a piece of copy to the city desk or going for a drink of water. He adhered to a dress code in force when he came into the business, coat (which he carefully hung up upon arrival) and tie.
Fowler also recalled, “He took great satisfaction in telling how, when the Penn Central railroad was failing in the early 1970s, the company's top executive told then Inquirer Editor John McMullan that he would only be interviewed by Frank Lordan. Toward the end of his career he covered the Delaware River Port Authority, writing comprehensive reports on the arcane ways of the bi-state agency that in addition to running four bridges doles out money for projects in NJ and Pa. He was one of the few that understood the politics of the institution influenced by two states.”
Lordan’s reporting and writing was already making a difference in 1954 while a reporter for the Long Branch (NJ) Daily Record. He went to the Record in 1953. It was during the Sen. Joseph McCarthy “Communist witch hunt” years when McCarthy was accusing - without evidence – people from every strata of society of being communists or communist sympathizers. When McCarthy targeted the Army’s Signal Corps Laboratories at nearby Ft. Monmouth, NJ, he dropped a net over numerous scientists. That got Lordan Frank involved. Frank contributed to the ultimate reinstatement of over 50 people who had been wrongly suspended from various government or agency positions and ultimately to the downfall of McCarthy.
The New York Times gave Lordan the run of their library and Frank’s work cleared the accusations of all of the scientists. The Monmouth New Jersey Democratic Committee and the Americans for Democratic Action honored Lordan with an award. During his career Lordan had one-on-one interviews with Presidents Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon.
Jim Nicholson, retired feature obituary writer for the Philadelphia Daily News, said he was, himself, one of those “hotshot young reporters at the Courier in 1965 who thought they knew everything and had all the answers.” Like Riggio, Nicholson worked with Frank at the Courier and later at the Inquirer.
“If I didn’t pay attention to Frank on the first go-round with him at the Courier, I certainly did years later after I had matured a bit more and we were both on the staff at the Inquirer,” said Nicholson, “Frank had an encyclopedic knowledge of all the players in every kind of playing field in Philly and South Jersey. Ask Frank as an aside and off-the-record about someone and he would step away from his news reporter objectivity and give you a complete autopsy of the subject’s character, morality, honesty, intelligence, work history, political connections and overall job performance.”
“He also had this habit of when he walked past your desk he’d say, ‘You’re doing a heck of a job, Jimmy. Heck of a job.’ Okay, maybe he didn’t really know if you were doing a good job that day. No matter. What was important was that here was one of the old pros acknowledging that you were in the newsroom, working - and actually existed. That meant something to all of us young reporters and he did it every day and virtually every time he walked past your desk.
“Oh yeah, there is this other thing still sticks in my mind a half century later. I always thought I was a pretty fast two-finger typist. Frank Lordan was the fastest I ever saw in the eight newsrooms I worked in over the years. He left me in the dust.”
Though he rarely mentioned his time in the military, he was very proud of it. He was drafted into the Army in 1944 and served in Europe with the 317th Field Artillery Battalion as an ammunition corporal. The GI Bill enabled him to graduate in 1952 from Temple University in Philadelphia. Right after the war, jobs were scarce. But, he was able to get some work at the 30th and Market Streets Post Office sorting mail and went there nearly every day and nights to get whatever extra work they might have for him. He did this while attending college.
Right after graduation he was hired by the Lakewood Daily Times, in Lakewood, NJ, in 1952. The Daily Times was an eight-page paper and he was paid $50-a-week to cover Monmouth and Ocean counties. He wasn’t paid overtime and there were no benefits or expense reimbursements. In those early lean days Frank ate spaghetti and meatballs five-days-a week at an Italian restaurant run by two brothers who befriended him.
Bob Fowler said, “He found himself near Essen, Germany, which round-the-clock bombing by the British and Americans had reduced to rock piles and rubble.
‘It was terrible to see,’ he said. ‘The people (Germans) had nothing left.’"
Shortly after the war ended, Frank was struck by a truck driven by a German civilian. He was seriously injured and spent three months in hospitals in Europe and the United States.
One of life’s highlights came for Frank about a year ago. He and other WWII veterans were recognized and honored with a day-long trip called “The Bucks County Tour of Honor.” On October 2, 2017, he and the other vets traveled by bus to Washington, DC where they visited the various sites including the World War II monument. “Would you believe it?” Frank enthusiastically said to a friend, “We had a police escort all the way from Bucks County to Washington!” Buses left from Parx Casino in Bensalem, sponsor of the "Tour of Honor," and returned to the casino in the evening for a dinner.
Profoundly religious, after retiring Frank organized a “First Friday Luncheon Group” that would attend a noon Mass at St. John the Evangelist Roman Catholic Church at 13th and Market streets in Philly and then have lunch a block away at Portofino’s restaurant.
Retired Philadelphia Administrative Judge Jerry Zaleski was a member of that group and a longtime Lordan buddy. Other regulars included Joseph Marshall, Temple law dean, Gene Brazil, school district counsel, political leader Mike Stack Sr. and prominent criminal defense attorney Frank DeSimone. Often other raconteurs attended the weekly ritual.
Zaleski said, “The conversations were spirited and all topics allowed.” He said Frank had “strong opinions which he defended with grace and persuasion.” Zaleski said Frank was “a distinguished Catholic gentleman who loved and lived his faith.”
“I consider journalism my greatest accomplishment. I really liked being able to right some wrongs, just by putting words on paper. It was good sometimes to be a voice for the voiceless,” he was quoted in a feature story about his life published in the magazine, Phoebe Messenger’s 2016-17 annual report of Phoebe-Devitt Homes.
He also told the magazine writer that in that truck accident in Europe he saw his life being spared a more serious injury or death through a spiritual lens. “I am alive for a reason. That reason is journalism,” he said.
A lot of family, friends, reporters and readers also were fortunate that Frank Lordan was spared.
A lifelong bachelor, Lordan was preceded in death by his brother, John and a sister, Mary. In addition, he is survived by his nephew Michael and wife Connie (Peitzman), nieces; Kathleen Lordan, and Eileen Clee and her husband, Peter and Julie Lordan (Lewis), widow of recently deceased nephew, John.
A Mass of Christian Burial will be at 10 am Wednesday, the 12th at St. Helena's Catholic Church, 6161 N. 5th Street Philadelphia PA, where friends may call one hour before the service. Burial will be in Holy Sepulchre Cemetery, 3301 W. Cheltenham Ave., Philadelphia. Friends may also call from 6 pm to 8 pm Tuesday, the 11th at the Naugle Funeral Home, 135 W Pumping Station Rd, Quakertown.
Contributions may be made to the Free Library of Philadelphia Foundation, 1901 Vine Street, Suite 111, Philadelphia, PA 19103.