Frank Hollingsworth has been described as an “activist extraordinaire.” He passed away following a brief illness at the age of 81.
To say he will be missed is pure understatement—and not just by the Irish community, but by the countless other organization with which he was involved, from his beloved Lincoln High School Alumni Association to the Northeast Philadelphia Hall of Fame to the Glen Foerd on the Delaware historical site to the Delaware Valley Irish Hall of Fame. Whatever his interest, Hollingsworth was in it all the way—always the inveterate volunteer.
That, says his life partner of 41 years Pat Smith, was just the way Frank Hollingsworth was built.
“He just always had an interest, the putting together of things, connecting to his history, to this person to that person to that place,” she says. “Finding people from his class, for example, he ran the reunion for his 50thclass reunion. He found so many people, it was unbelievable. They had an amazing turnout. And then there’s been groups of them that have gotten together here and there a couple of times of year ever since.”
Hollingsworth’s interest in his Irish heritage inspired a deep commitment to all things Irish. His family, the Tyrrells, came from County Wexford. He had a special place in his heart for the Commodore John Barry Arts and Cultural Center (generally known just as the Irish Center) in Mount Airy.
“He was at practically every event,” says Smith. “He’d be doing something for everybody. And if not just that, he’d be bartending. He took care of the Irish Center library. At one point, he was on two boards at once. He loved the St. Patrick’s Day parade. I’d usually be carrying part of the banner. And he was always trying to get more people involved in the Irish Center.”
All of that community involvement was the side of Frank Hollingsworth that most people saw. But there was the personal side.
“When he moved in here, I had two teenage girls. He was a brave man, a confirmed bachelor and an only child, and he moves in with three women and one bathroom,” Smith says with a laugh. “And to my four grandchildren he was pop-pop, and always had been.”
Here’s how other people remembered Frank Hollingsworth.
Denise Foley, a founding editor of irishphiladelphia.com.
I can’t conjure up a vision of Frank Hollingsworth not smiling—and I once spent several hours in the steaming heat of the Irish Center library with him, culling and lugging books. I know I wasn’t smiling.
I also can’t conjure up a memory of him bored with nothing to do. Frank always had a full plate of activities that he clearly enjoyed but which all served the communities he loved. He was so proud of his work on the book “Northeast Philadelphia: A Brief History,” which he co-authored with Harry Silcox, his high school basketball coach, with whom he shared a love of local history.
He grew up in Torresdale and witnessed the deterioration and finally demolition of the beautiful estates that lined the Delaware River there. He later sat on the board of the only remaining estate, Glen Foerd on the Delaware, where, true to form, he combined one love with another. He organized several “Irish Nights” at Glen Foerd featuring local musicians, such as Gerry Timlin, in concert.
Before the pandemic hit, he had also arranged for an “Irish Day” at the Morris Arboretum, where he was also a volunteer.
I can’t imagine who would be willing to step up to replace Frank at the Irish Center, where he was a ubiquitous and enthusiastic volunteer for just about everything. He served for years on the Delaware Valley Irish Hall of Fame, a yearly fundraising event for the Irish Center, and worked tirelessly to increase membership in the center.
We all know we’re going to miss Frank—not just for his work, but for his stories and jokes—but only time will show us how much we’re going to miss him.
Jim McGill, longtime member of the Philadelphia Ceili Group.
I first got to know Frank way back around the bicentennial. We were involved in other stuff. Frank wasn’t involved in Irish stuff at the time. I knew he was involved in historical things.
All of a sudden, Frank surfaced again with the Irish Federation. He got involved in his history and ancestry. He got totally involved. He developed a passion.
At the Irish Center, Frank filled little niches. He didn’t do the big stuff. He was a background type, and he just enjoyed doing it. Those things are a definite plus. Those things get done and you don’t know how they get done. But somebody has to do them. Until they’re gone, you don’t know how they happen.
John Nolan, Irish Center manager.
“He just liked to work. Whenever we were short on firewood, he’d always bring firewood here. He’d clean up the fireplace. And he set up our open house and manned the table. The same thing for any of the big events. And anything the board did, he would just be there.”
Sean McMenamin, president of the Irish Center board. “Frank was very involved in the Irish Center library. When he came here, Billy Brennan (the center’s late resident librarian and historian) was still involved with the library. So they were our librarians, the two of them. When Billy got sick, Frank took on the job of working with the library, collecting and going through the books. He was our liaison between the library and the board. He just enjoyed and was just a big proponent of the Irish community.