In Memory of an “Impressive” Man – MIT Coach and Dedicated Oarsmen Jack Frailey

by Ed Moran, | Jan 07, 2016
In a Boston newspaper story about a his unbeaten Massachusetts Institute of Technology crew that had just thumped Yale University by more than two lengths in a dual race leading up to the 1961 Compton Cup, head coach Jack Frailey described his crew’s performance as “impressive.”

FraileyIn a Boston newspaper story about his unbeaten Massachusetts Institute of Technology crew that had just thumped Yale University by more than two lengths in a dual race leading up to the 1961 Compton Cup, head coach Jack Frailey described his crew’s performance as “impressive.”

“With only one senior oarsman in the boat, (I) figured this gang was a year away,” Frailey was quoted as telling the reporter. “Now, I don’t know. Our time, 9:37.4, and the margin were impressive. Naturally, I love to win and hope we keep going, but come what may, these kids already have pleased me greatly.” 

It didn’t take long for the coache's words to reach the crew and, having noted that his team had both read the story and were happy with themselves about it - “swell headed,” was how crewmember Jim Falender recalled it years later - Frailey called his charges together in the MIT boathouse for a talk.

Today, members of the crew continue to talk about that moment.

“I still remember your conversation with the press about our crew being impressive - which got us all swell-headed,” Falender wrote years later in a 2006 MIT Alumni Crew tribute to Frailey. “But, then, you added a confidential caveat to us at the boathouse that ‘impressive’ could have either a positive or negative connotation, and you would leave it to us to judge which you meant. I still smile, today, whenever I hear the word ‘impressive.’”

That story, and many more, will circulate through the rowing community this week, as will memories of Frailey’s contributions to MIT and to rowing in the United States in the wake of his passing.

Frailey, 90, died early Thursday morning at his home in Shrewsbury, Mass.

Born in Lakeland, Ohio in 1925, was raised in Flushing, N.Y. and graduated from Flushing High School. He took up rowing in 1940 while a 16-year-old freshman at MIT studying aeronautical engineering. His coaches, Bobby Moch and Jim Stub McMillin, were both members of the legendary University of Washington crew memorialized in the book, “The Boys in the Boat,” the story about the eight that competed at the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin.

Under Moch and McMillin, Frailey rowed four years and captained the 1944 varsity lightweight eight. Following MIT, Frailey enrolled in the Naval Officer Candidate School program at Cornell University. He was commissioned three years later and was stationed in Hawaii where he commanded a PT boat, a torpedo-armed, fast-attack, small craft. He eventually returned to MIT and completed his degree work in 1947. Frailey earned an undergraduate degree in engineering, and two Master of Science degrees in aeronautical engineering 1947 and 1954

Following graduation, Frailey took a job with the California-based Lockheed Corporation where he directed their Polaris missile project in 1948. He was subsequently offered a position in the Boston area with a firm that ultimately became Itek, a corporation that initially specialized in the development of satellite camera systems.

Frailey was back in the Boston area only a year when McMillin called in 1954 and asked him to fill the varsity lightweight coaching position.

Frailey’s history with MIT was recorded in an MIT crew association book written by Bill Gadzuk, who rowed under Frailey from 1959 through 1961. “Six months into his coaching career, his lights won the 1954 Thames Challenge Cup at Henley,” Gadzuk wrote, quoting Frailey as saying, ‘Bingo, the first crew I ever coached was a national champion and a world champion,’ a feat that they repeated in 1955.”

Frailey’s career at MIT was highlighted by leading his crew to a victory over Harvard, Princeton and Rutgers to win the Compton Cup in 1962 at Wisconsin – one year after his “impressive” team fell short in 1961.
His team’s performance during that four-year period has been unmatched in MIT history and included the 1954 Thames Challenge Cup at the Henley Royal Regatta and second- and third-place finishes at both the Eastern Sprints and IRA Championship regattas. His time as a coach at MIT spanned nearly a decade.

In 1962 Frailey joined MIT's staff and served as Special Assistant to the Provost, Director of Student Financial Aid and Head Rowing Coach. His last position before retiring in 1998 was Director in the Office of Registration and Student Financial Services.

Frailey was also deeply involved with the U.S. National Team, where he was a coach and team manager for the 1968 and 1976 Olympic Games. Frailey also served as the president of the National Association of Amature Oarsmen, the predecessor organization of USRowing, from 1976 to 1978, and on USRowing’s Board of Directors for 39 years between 1963 and 2002.

In 2002, Frailey was presented with the Medal of Honor, the most prestigious honor USRowing bestows on a member of the rowing community. He has also been the recipient of the 1992 USRowing Jack Kelly Award, for superior achievements in rowing, and the 1982 USRowing John J. Carlin Service Award, which honors an individual who has made significant and outstanding contributions and commitments in support of rowing.
He was inducted into the National Rowing Hall of Fame in 1998 and is credited with the conception of the national team camp system, which since 1972, has been the method used to select the U.S. National and Olympic team big boats, and with helping to spearhead the worldwide campaign that won inclusion of lightweight rowing in the Olympic Games in 1996.

When he wasn't immersed in coaching, Frailey liked skiing, music and singing, especially in a Concord barbershop quartet. He took photographs, gardened and loved to travel. He was also a published writer. His work has appeared in The Oarsmen Magazine, Milwaukee Journal, Christian Science Monitor, Boston Globe, and the American Rowing Magazine.

Frailey in the rain at 2005 IRA[1]While Frailey was involved in the national rowing scene, his commitment to MIT, and its crew program, never waned. He was instrumental in the development of the MIT Crew Athletic Association and remained active with that group well into his eighties.

Frailey acted as coach to the alumni masters eight, which rowed in the IRA Masters Alumni races. Those who participated in those crews cherished his involvement in the masters crews and the athletic associations. (Watch a video of two members phoning Frailey and remising with him following a meeting after he was unable to continue to be present.)            

“We had our monthly board meeting (Wednesday) afternoon, and I just felt that these things have been so hollow without Jack, who was sort of the Godfather of it all,” said Gadzuk on Thursday. “I mentioned this to my wife last night, and then we found out this morning that he passed.

“He was a compassionate man and showed an interest in people as human beings,” Gadzuk said. “He was kind. He may have been strict, but there was not an ounce of meanness in him. He was a tremendous father figure. It was just the most amazing thing. I personally felt rewarded by pleasing him; it was almost like pleasing my father. I was just so happy when I was able to do something that satisfied him. He would call upon me for a lot of things.”

Frailey with MIT Alumni Masters at 2008 IRAFrailey’s impact and the impression he left on the MIT crew program, and those who rowed there, went years beyond when he was a coach or athlete. Dartmouth College head women’s coach, Linda Muri rowed at MIT and remained active in the athletic association and remembers the loyalty Frailey carried for MIT.

“He was MIT, through and through,” Muri said. “My first experience with him would have been when they had the men’s and women’s Olympic rowing committees, and he was definitely very involved with that. Jack got me involved and got me involved with the board at USRowing. He roped me into getting on the MIT friends committee and when it petered out in the late nineties, he got it going again, and it’s not going to stop.

“The MIT rowers just worshipped Jack. He did so much for rowing. Not everybody always agreed with him, but Jack was pretty confident about what he was doing and that he was always doing the right thing,” Muri said.

“It’s hard to find somebody who had better intentions and just dedicated so much time. Once he retired, it was MIT and fundraising full time. He just didn’t stop until he stopped.”

Frailey is survived by his wife of 24 years, Jean (Carlson) Frailey; his sons, Peter Frailey and his wife, Laurie (Smith) Frailey of Westford, MA, and Richard Frailey and his wife, Lee Ellyn (Pendergraft) Frailey of Spokane, WA and three grandchildren.

A celebration of Frailey's life for family and friends will be held at friends at the Chapel at Southgate retirement community in Shrewsbury, Mass.

In lieu of flowers, the family requests denotations in Frailey's name be made to the Jack H. Frailey (1944) Director of Crew Fund, c/o Bonnie Kellermann ’72, Director of Memorial Gifts, 600 Memorial Drives, W98-500, Cambridge, MA 02139.

To view Frailey's online tribute, share a memory, or offer a condolence, please visit

A Tribute to the MIT Life of Jack H. Frailey is scheduled for 2 p.m., Sunday, June 5, 2016 in the MIT Chapel, 48 Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge, Mass. A reception is scheduled for 3 p.m. in the Religious Activities Center, 40 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, Mass

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