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Admirers remember Frank Knight's contributions

July 24, 2011

BY MARTHA SMITH
Special to the Standard

NORTH KINGSTOWN – Frank Knight, 83, a former North Kingstown town councilman, interim town manager, Chamber of Commerce president and longtime activist with the Republican
Town Committee, died July 14 at South County Hospital.
Bill Pennoyer, a former member of the school committee and the GOP Town Committee, said, “I remember the time when Frank was serving as interim town manager and he knew so many people in town, he was able to sort through things when others wouldn’t have known how to proceed. He knew the players and the issues; he was up to speed on everything.
“I think of Frank with Ken McKay and Les Floyd: so outwardly concerned with current affairs and the course of this country. I find that awfully striking.”
Indeed, during his tenure on the town council, Knight became a bridge between the sometimes contentious communities of townspeople and Navy families. Melvoid Benson, a serviceman’s wife, said one instance in particular demonstrated Frank’s sense of patriotism and appreciation of the military.
“We always thanked Frank Knight because when Davisville Middle School was finished, he was instrumental in getting [the adjacent] McGinn Park named in honor of Walter McGinn. It showed he didn’t forget the Navy” and personal sacrifices made.
Walter McGinn, a chief builder for the Seabees, was killed in action in Vietnam.
Diane Flynn, a neighbor of Knight’s for more than a half-century and a playmate of his children’s, said, “I believe he was the first person [to live on] Hunts River Drive. He was a good guy.
Growing up, his daughter Cathy and I were really good friends. Their house was always
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a fun place to be. We’d go sled riding in his backyard, ice skating behind his house. I don’t ever remember him getting upset, even once.”
During political campaigns, she said, laughing, everyone was put to work.
“I was 13 in his garage with his kids making campaign signs out of cardboard and sticks. It was just fun.”
After she became an adult and developed her own interest in public matters, Flynn often consulted Knight in his famous backyard shed. He’d built his private sanctum with hand tools, furnishing it with a desk, bookshelves and objects of manly comfort.
Flynn said if she ever had a problem, she visited Frank in his little “Abe Lincoln cabin” where he offered sage advice. “I would say ‘What about this zoning? What do you think?’ If he didn’t have the answer, he’d find out and get right back to me.
“He was a real gentleman, a real family man.”
Flynn remembers the Republican Knight and the Democrat Frank Cain “going at it like cats and dogs” during town council meetings, only to meet later at Duffy’s or the Irish Pub over drinks.
Duffy’s owner Stu Tucker has endured a lot of loss recently with the deaths of Frank Cain, Bill Alsfeld and, now, Frank Knight.
It is recognized that in the early years, the trio put Duffy’s – then a rough-hewn all-guy hangout – on the map.
“They were all close to me,” he said. “They came in after the council meetings and [after battling at the public session] they’d slap each other on the back and say, ‘That was a good one’. There was a lot of humor.
“Frank was a straight shooter; he always wanted to do the right thing and was always willing to help me. Frank was pro-business and did a good job when he was with the Chamber. It had a big, hearty camaraderie; a lot of old timers.
“They’re all gone.”

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