My mobile rang early on Saturday morning – it was my Uncle Francis in Tasmania. I was surprised to get the call as we had spoken just a few days previously… as is sometimes the way with unexpected calls, the conversation brought sad news. My dear Uncle Michael (his brother) had died in the night… and so this posting is dedicated to my mum’s brother, my Uncle Michael, who died in the early hours of Saturday, 12th May 2012, aged 83 (just a bit younger than my mum).
Actually I’ve been meaning to write about my uncle for some time now and he and I discussed this briefly at the end of last year, but as he was about to go for more treatment (he’d been unwell for some time) he suggested we have the “interview” after his return from hospital… when he’d be feeling better. Sadly that time was not to transpire and I am therefore left to my own devices and memories. This grieves me much, as I was looking forward to recalling memories with him before writing them into my laptop. I know that the stories would have brought a proud smile or a mischievous smile or an intelligent smile, to his face.
I recall with fondness that when I was a child living in Greenwood Road, Nottingham (with my younger brother and my mum), my uncle would come and see us about twice a year and we absolutely delighted in his visits. He’d bring with him Cypriot cheeses, meats and olives and sometimes perfume and chocolates too and he was always slipping us kids the odd ten bob note – or sometimes even a pound or, if we were really lucky, a fiver! He’d take us shopping in Nottingham and would generally buy up Victoria Market – he loved it, and so did we… and so did the market traders! Whenever he came to visit, the fridge would be filled with the best fish, best meat and best fruit and veg. My uncle was so very generous and I remember also that years later, when I used to visit my mum in Cyprus he’d sometimes come to see me, often just before my departure, and laden me down with Cyprus foods to take back to England. I learned recently, from cousins, that this special treatment was not reserved for us alone. Special treatment? Michael Anthony Frangou was a man gifted with the ability of making everyone feel special.
However, my uncle’s generosity is not what I remember most about him. Uncle Michael was a handsome man and a dapper dresser who always wore a confident, warm smile. I’m not sure that I ever saw him wearing anything other than a suit, with crisp shirt, expensive tie and very expensive leather shoes – regardless of the Cypriot sunshine. I recall that, even as a child, I thought that he smelled good… expensive aftershave too! He was immaculate and his lustrous, thick hair was always cut to perfection. Uncle’s sharp and snappy appearance lent weight to his presence – for presence he certainly had. There was an air of mystique and power about him – the familiar old phrase “je ne sais quoi” could have been coined with Michael Anthony Frangou in mind.
Uncle Michael (or Jelas as he was known to his close acquaintances) was one of six children born to my grandparents, in the lovely village of Ayia Marina. In those days the villagers were poor – certainly by our modern day standards - and they generally eked out a tough existence mainly from the land. Surviving those early days of hardship doubtless contributed to uncle’s commitment to provide for his family and his community (he constantly took time out of his very busy schedule to preside over family weddings and baptisms). He used to tell a story of being a young boy (perhaps around 7 years old): my grandfather ruled the household with a rod of iron and one day he sent the young Michael to the bakery to collect bread for the family. Uncle’s tummy growled with hunger and, small child that he was, he could not resist the delicious aroma of the freshly baked loaf and broke off and ate a small piece (I guess that’s something we’ve all done when buying fresh bread). My grandfather chastised him severely, reminding him that there were 8 mouths to feed! Uncle ran off crying and shouting “I’ll show you all… one day I will be a rich man… you’ll see”. His prophesy came true but not without a good deal of hard work, determination, risk taking and significant brain power!
Yesterday I attended my uncle’s funeral; the crowd of people who came to pay their respects was overwhelming and the Maronite church in Nicosia was bursting at the seams. Clearly he was a highly respected, much loved and much admired person who leaves behind a vast chasm where he once was. During the service, a number of people spoke about him and the resounding message was that Michael Anthony Frangou was a good man with a big heart and a generous spirit… and the best friend anyone could hope to have. He was passionate about his community and contributed financially and personally to various Maronite causes – the renovation of the Prophet Elias Monastery in particular was a cause that he held dear.
Uncle Michael spent most of his working life in the police force here in Cyprus and I think that by the time he retired he held quite a senior position. According to one source though his big heart would sometimes interfere with his ability to carry out his police duties as he would sometimes prefer to let people off minor offences rather than charge them! When he retired from the force he ploughed his energy into his personal business ventures which took a severe knock when he sustained serious losses because of the 1974 Turkish invasion of Cyprus. But “you can’t keep a good man down” and while Cyprus was in the grip of war, my uncle was out and about buying up property on nothing more than a promise and before too long his business empire was rekindled and emerged like a phoenix from the ashes. A few years ago I asked him to share with me the secret of his success and he told me that when you have survived difficult times (he was talking about his childhood days) you are prepared to take risks – you know that you are a survivor; that “a little honey goes a long way” – he explained that he had learned the importance of cultivating friendships, of paying sincere compliments and of making people feel good about themselves; and that when concluding business, always leave the door of opportunity slightly ajar.
At the post-burial reception I asked one of my cousins to summarise for me the man that uncle Michael was. He replied that uncle was a great family man and a provider; that he always helped anyone who came to him with a problem and that he was hospitable and generous. He went on to say that uncle was intelligent and inquisitive and possessed an intuitive insight in terms of business and politics; he was a glass-half-full man with a positive approach and a great sense of humour. Michael Frangou was totally dedicated to his community – almost to the extreme and apparently, in spite of his early skirmishes with his father, he would often take the old man out for a night on the town together, drinking and dancing and generally making merry.
Rest in Peace Uncle Michael – I am sure that Cyprus misses you already and will never forget you.