By Paul Morse
My humble homage to Frank Spain (1947-2022), a lanky, quixotic Irish redhead, who surprisingly traded in 40 shades of green in Ireland for yellow fields sparse in chlorophyll, in the middle of La Mancha in Puertollano, Ciudad Real, Spain to roister in teaching English since 1979. A town dedicated to fossil fuels, having transitioned from coal mining to oil refining, it curiously reminded me of my father’s own career in the oil industry – and my youth in the Caribbean.
Frank was a charming and beguiling story teller. His origin story was of being a descendant of a Spanish combatant from the Great Armada washed up on a western Irish beach in 1588. Evidently not executed, as most were, this castaway was taken in by a compassionate people. His legacy and bestowed surname carried down over the generations in Gaelic until the English forced the Irish to translate names and surnames. Hence “Spain”. Centuries later, Frank, a descendant, returned to the Iberian Peninsula where he met, wooed and married Mari Carmen Mundi, “World”. Both settled in Puertollano and started their own family and English Language School encompassing the views of both their eponymous names – Spain and Mundi. The logo of his English Language School is the World, its name is Escuela de Idiomas Spain.
Possibly due to his being an incorrigible yarn spinner, Frank became a gentle yet vigorously inspiring, personally appointed ambassador for all English speaking peoples in Puertollano, La Mancha and Spain. All the while juggling being a staunch defender and proponent of Irish culture, respectful of its faith, while being an energetic critic of the harmful aspects of its rancid catholic zealotry. That’s lot of balls in the air when you’ve only got two hands.
In the pre-internet era he was a great organiser and manager of logistics either by phone or letter by recruiting teachers abroad and preparing summer camps in the UK and Ireland. When travel abroad in Spain was rare and incipient he pampered his students with pivotal experiences in their lives while giving reassurance to parents. With a long view to his students’ personal and professional interests Frank recognized the importance of internationally recognised English language certification for students for their educational and professional futures and promoted it actively. A great believer in the power of association he became the president of the Spanish national language school association FECEI 1992-99 – a position that required considerable personal dedication with little personal or economic reward.
Over the decades Frank deftly created and maintained a rotating diverse staff that benefitted, from their melange of various skills and backgrounds while letting them pass these on to students over generations. He recruited hundreds of teachers from English Language Speaking countries from all over the world (all around the Mundi as far away as Australia) with a variety of profiles that long predated the current term “inclusivity” (ethnicities, nationalities, colours, beliefs, sexualities, etc.), hurdled the immensely convoluted paperwork (when it was still paper and definitely convoluted) for work and residence permits for his staff before (and after) Spain joined the European Union, found housing, paid decent wages and personally oriented them on arrival – for more than 40 years. By doing so he provided exceptional life experiences for his teachers and quality English Language Learning for his students. A collateral effect was that many of his teachers have maintained cherished friendships, after so many years – and latitudes and longitudes between them.
My thin wedge of time of work/life experience with Frank 1982-86 became a springboard for my own life in Spain, both professionally and personally. Our initial interview simply and naturally bifurcated over the years into vigorous ripostes into the branches of each other’s personality and experiences.
As only one of the many aforementioned teachers, was that despite my being an American in the raw (or because of) and unaware of my strident rough edges of my blatant cultural imperialism, Frank took it upon himself to orient me to the nuances of the cultural life in Puertollano and Spain to smooth them out. Recently arrived, just after the grape harvest, he took me to see wine violently ferment in huge vats in Almodovar del Campo. But this was a two way affair that didn’t stop at having cañas midday and talking ourselves silly regarding nuance and innuendo. For example, at my behest, late one Friday night he drove four of his teachers, including yours truly, all the way to Valdepeñas on a slew of back roads so we could catch a train to Granada for a weekend of revelling. He then drove himself all the way back home on his lonesome in the Manchegan dark. Both of us went on the tear to his favourite haunts of youth in Madrid, including las Cuevas de Sésamo. He was an expert at pointing out quirks and eccentricities such as the huge crocodile hung on the church ceiling in El Viso del Marques (brought back from Egypt across the Mediterranean after the battles where Cervantes became “El Manco de Lepanto”). He rollicked in Spain´s politics, literature and culture, having a very weak spot for the annual theatre in Almagro’s Corral de Comedias. Frank couldn’t help but acquaint teachers with all sorts of cultural experiences related to La Mancha (and beyond). This meant places that were barely recognised culturally in the Spain of the day: Lagunas de Ruidera, Cueva de Montesinos, the then abandoned Castillo de Calatrava, Pinturas de Fuencaliente, Pantano de Montoro, el Hoyo, Valle de Alcudia, Villanueva de los Infantes. He often escorted his staff of these local gems.
Frank was a brilliant pedagogue, impromptu entertainer and teacher himself, in and out of class. And an admirer and promoter of his teachers, in all their individual stages of professional and personal development. One never knew where a conversation with him might take you but he had the ability to engage and surprise with a welter of eclectic topics. If he popped into one of your classes he immediately engaged the students with his story telling, and his inquisitive, provocative yet gentle questioning. Students fell into rapture, as did we.
Frank gave students, parents, teachers and the general community of Puertollano, and beyond, a clearer and more optimistic view to the outer world at a time post-Franco Spain was progressively opening up, socially, culturally and politically. Understanding that by providing his teachers with these engaging experiences they would also provide life expanding experiences for their students.
We, his teachers, (sometimes unwittingly) became unofficial, deputised ambassadors for his international vision, both in and out of class. Probably best that we were unofficial – our afterhours could be crazy and raucous. He helped make Puertollano a safe sandbox for many young English Language Teachers discovering the Spanish language, culture and themselves. But, as things would have it, he couldn’t protect us from all the vicissitudes life presents. He segued by offering timely personal counselling on some of the most intimate and darker matters imaginable to his staff in their early youth, ranging from conception and contraception, marriage, suicide, femicide (when the term didn’t exist) and death. Many of his teachers have benefitted from Frank’s guidance on the above with as an honest guide to these aspects of the thread of life. As have I.
Atypical of most employers, I have always been amazed at the personal support Frank would give his teachers post-employment, even to the extent of encouraging them to move on when he, or they, thought they needed to – me included. He has been a witness/best man and an enthusiastic participant in many staff marriages in several countries, including mine. I slept in his home on the eve of my wedding, giving me support when nobody from my family was able to attend.
Although, of late, I would run into Frank about once a year at teaching conferences (updating face to face, never online) I know that his legacy for his teachers, staff, students and general community will continue into the future – in their memories and lives.
It does in mine.
I remember most his smile, friendly quiet but joyous manner and intellectually provocative retorts, the smoky barbeques at Los Pinos, the rides in his surprisingly reliable Seat 127.
The excuse of teaching English in an industrial town in La Mancha resulted in a life well-lived by giving to others, in so many ways. A man very protective of his family. A tremendous legacy for a lanky, humble, quixotic, whiskered Irish redhead.
An incredibly colourful yarn, cut too soon.
One stone thrown. But with so many ripples in so many ponds.
In Spain and the World.
Goodbye my friend, Slán go fóill.
Paul Wayne Morse Van Fleet
29th June 2022