In Memoriam: Death of a Mentor

Monday, September 6, 2021


Francis D. "Proinsias" Faulkner, PhD
I'm not quite sure what event or thought crossed my mind yesterday to cause me to think about him. I've been having a personal "quarrel" with social media (primarily Facebook) since the final days of the annus horribilis known to almost all of us as 2020. The constant skirmishes with people that I used to remember being somewhat smart and collegial had me pull away from my primary window to the outside world at the height of the worst pandemic event our planet has witnessed since the Spanish Flu outbreak just over 100 years ago. Scrolling through countless "shares" about the coronavirus, the conspiratorial aftermath of the then-recent US presidential election, and the toxic mingling of the two into incoherent uneducated gibberish pushed me to the point where I would only give the site occasional glances to check in on the lives of those I was connected with through that platform (I would later go even farther, removing all of my personal information except for my name). Because this 21st century version of the "town square" concept was the only way to keep tabs on some family members and close friends, I could not go through the final act of deleting the account completely.
When I was on good terms with Facebook, one of the things I looked forward to annually was the birthday greetings that would come flooding in from a good portion of the 500+ "friends" I have on that site. If one shares their birth date with the public, members can anticipate the well wishes to start (depending on where they lived) as early as the afternoon before the actual day and they would continue sometimes up to a few weeks later in the form of apologetic "belated" felicitations. From the time that we linked there up back in 2014, one of the first ones that would arrive for me would be from Francis (Frank) Faulkner, a man that I considered a mentor, a contemporary, as well as a friend who I met through my University of Massachusetts (UMass) journalism certificate program days. This "earlieness" was due to him taking up residence in the Philippines--12 hours ahead of the US Eastern time zone--in what turned out to be the final years of his most interesting life. Since I removed my data, none of my friends were reminded about my birthday (it's a day in June) and no greetings were received. As it turned out, I would not have received one from him this year anyway because of his passing in late May.


An undated photo of Frank during his time in the US Army's 101st Airborne Division

I had the pleasure of having "Professor" Faulkner as my instructor for three (Introduction to Journalism, Newswriting and Reporting, and Interviewing Skills for Journalists) of my seven online courses during the program. Over that time, we got to know about each other's common backgrounds and shared military experiences (he was a member of the US Army's 101st Airborne Division and served a tour in South Vietnam in the early 1960s; he would later serve as the Executive Officer of Westover Air Reserve Base from 1986 through 1983). It was after that Army stint that he dove deep into the journalism field. He described that period between 1965 and 1967 while a correspondent for United Press International in his February 1981 Communication Studies dissertation titled Bao Chi: The American News Media in Vietnam 1960-1975, as a "shakedown" where he rubbed shoulders with a veritable "who's who" of correspondents and photographers assigned to Saigon who covered their own portions of that 15-year war in Indochina. 

A photo of Frank while assigned as a war correspondent at the UPI's Saigon news bureau (photo courtesy of

In an October 1965 news article, Francis T. Leary, the UPI vice-president and executive editor, called him out among other in-country reporters in a rebuttal to a retired Army general's claims of the press being "derelict" in their coverage of the war for American audiences. Specifically, he cited accounts of Operation Paul Revere II,  the second in a series of four joint US/Vietnamese operations to sweep out North Vietnamese insurgents from the central highlands region of South Vietnam's Pleiku Province. Mr. Leary responded to that criticism by saying, "it is a pity that Gen. Marshall did not acquaint himself with the UPI file before joining the clique that attempts to smear the press generally in an effort to smoke screen government and military information shenanigans designed to keep the press from doing its job." Faulkner was identified as one of seven UPI journalists who saw "considerable front line action" for that specific operation. Although I can no longer confirm this, this very public exchange between the Army officer and the UPI executive might have been the impetus for Faulkner's later dissertation (there is no mention of either man in that document's acknowledgement).

According to his obituary, he returned to Springfield, Massachusetts where he worked as an investigative reporter and city editor at the Springfield Daily News, a stringer for The New York Times, and also taught journalism at both UMass and Holyoke Community College from 1974 until his unceremonious departure in the summer of 2012. It was in the fall of 2011 that I got to make his acquaintance for my aforementioned journalism "intro" course. In an exchange we had at the beginning of that semester, he told me that he was also co-teaching a class called "Journalism in the Age of Terror", one that was geared toward military intelligence analysts and journalists--two things that I consider myself to be. He told me that "in the current age, and with something I term Fourth Generation Journalism, the old rules of military, law enforcement, and diplomacy no longer matter to the conduct of nations or non-state players...and because of this, journalism and intelligence should change, perhaps must change." 

We never continued that conversation but we had some exchanges in the summer of 2014 when I was out of work and looking at using my newly minted journalism certificate to help secure any type of employment opportunities. I reached out to him to ask him if I could use him as a professional reference and to look over a new version of my resume (he gladly said "yes" to both). I made the changes he recommended and actually got a few "nibbles" (but no true "bites") when I submitted it for reporter/multimedia journalist positions in three different states. As I said in my last blog posting for 2014, I was offered a job in a new line of work for me and I've been going strong for the past 6-1/2 years. I sometimes have regrets that I could not land my "dream job" but it was an opportunity for "reinventing" myself and that courage to step outside of my "comfort zone" is directly attributed to the mentorship and friendship I received during that year-long period that Frank and I were instructor and student. 

A photo that Frank posted to his profile page (he laughed when I called him "the most interesting man in the world")

In the years since then, Frank split his time between Dingle in Ireland's County Kerry and the Philippines' Mindanao island. The photos he posted for sale at his page show how he lived out the last years, surrounded by sun, surf, and the essence of life with a new family. He passed on May 28th at the age of 76 after a short illness and he leaves behind two adult daughters and a 7-year old son along with two grandchildren. The obituary also lists "countless cousins, friends and former students around the world" and I consider myself lucky to have been included in that grouping. I hope to honor his legacy and use his passing as a catalyst to get me to start blogging again (last month marked the 10-year anniversary of its creation and today is also the 10th anniversary of me starting my certificate program with UMass). It won't be easy but I am willing to give it my best.

While born as a "Francis", Frank preferred to use Proinsias (the Gaelic version of his name) in his later life to honor his Irish heritage and lineage. As someone who claims a similar (but minor) hereditament from my father's mother's side of the family, I would like to close this tribute with a traditional Irish blessing of Saint Patrick, the patron saint of that emerald island:

“May the Irish hills caress you.
May her lakes and rivers bless you.
May the luck of the Irish enfold you.
May the blessings of Saint Patrick behold you.”

Although, understanding the"cheeky" way that he viewed life, this one might be more appropriate:

“As you slide down the banisters of life, may the splinters never point the wrong way.”

Beannaigh Proinsias duit ... go dtí go mbuailfimid arís.

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