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Frank Mills 1943-2014

Frank first took up Fencing in the early 1960s at Blackfriars Fencing Club, having first been a keen road cyclist, and quickly became a competent foilist competing on the open circuit and represented Surrey on several occasions. Frank also trained under Professor Behmber at his Salle in London.

It was while on a fencing course being run in Bath in 1965 Frank met his wife to be Betty, also a competitive fencer at that time. They were married in St Peter’s Church Maidenhead in 1969. Members of the Fencing community formed a guard of honour at the exit from the marriage ceremony.

In 1970 Frank won the South East Section Men’s Foil Championships.

Frank spent most of his working life in the Marketing and Public Relations fields holding several management positions, and was the head of fundraising for the Licensed Victuallers National Homes. During this time he raised many hundreds of thousands of pounds for charity.

Frank gave up Fencing in 1975 due to the commitment of helping to raise a son and daughter with Betty and work. When his son Nik started Fencing, using a foil inherited from Betty, Frank was lured back into fencing in 1988 and joined the Milton Keynes Fencing Club. In 1995 Frank joined the Veterans Fencing movement, then known as the NVA and was elected to the committee in 1996 serving as Match secretary.

Frank was elected Chairman of British Veterans Fencing in March 2008.

In 2007 Frank joined the Freemasons in the Grand Union 9641 Lodge and became Lodge Master serving from 2012 to 2013. During his time with the Freemasons Frank was active in fundraising for charity. He was one of the organisers of the 1st Rock Ride, a cycle ride from Gibraltar to Buckinghamshire in aid of charities and was one of the travelling support team. Although he started working for the Rock Ride 2 event ill health prevented him from becoming fully involved.

Organised charity work was not the only expression of Frank’s good nature. He was always the first to help anyone in trouble, be it a Fencing friend or a neighbour. Many a weekend Frank could be found helping Betty, with a bit of DIY here, running a BBQ there and various other projects with the Girl Guide movement in which she is still heavily involved.

Frank was well known to Veteran Fencers for his charm, sense of humour, quick wit and velvet toned speaking voice. He entertained us on many occasions at various dinners over the years when he managed to incorporate unsuspecting members into his jokes. It soon became a badge of honour to be included in one of his stories.

Frank’s dedication to British Veterans Fencing (BVF) was well known. He led several British Veterans Fencing squads to matches and Championships in Europe. He organised the Age Group Qualifiers for several years and was involved with the organisation of the Veterans Winton Cup, increasing its standard and popularity and as a result had a positive impact on recruitment to the BVF.

Frank became ill in 2013 and after treatment it seemed that he was victorious over his disease and making a good recovery but unfortunately this proved to be a short period of remission. In 2014 Frank, unable to perform his duties as chairman, unselfishly resigned from the BVF committee.

Some brightness entered Frank and Betty’s lives in 2013 when their daughter presented them with a much awaited and beloved grandson, Henry.

Sadly in the early hours of 11th November Frank lost his last bout and died peacefully at home with his family. Frank’s personality touched many people’s lives and we are all the better for it.

He leaves behind his loving wife Betty, his son Nicholas and his partner Rachel and two children, his daughter Andrea, son in-law Byron and grandson Henry.

Our thoughts and deepest sympathy are with them at this very sad time.

Personal Reminiscences

Thankyou to so many of the veterans, both past and present, who have expressed such kind words and given support during this difficult time for our family. Dad was a proud member of the British Veterans, both as a competing member representing the organization and his country many times over the years, supporting fencing at both the London Olympics and Paralympics as a valued team member, and as a contributing member of the veterans committee for so many years.

I was lucky enough to see Dad in action at 2 international events representing the veterans and the UK, in Toronto and Moscow, and could see first hand the team spirit and camaraderie that exists within the BVF, and of which he was so happy to be a part of. He would often reminisce about the competitions and the AGM (and the after dinner speeches he would present), and I know he had many good friends and stories to tell. I also had many opportunities to fence with him over the years, both in the UK and Canada, and will always treasure those moments, among the many others that we shared together.

Yours Sincerely,

Nicholas Mills

It is a sad loss on the parting of Frank, He was at my side through an Olympic and Paralympic games. A great person to have around always full of life and fun . He will be sadly missed by many people who knew him.

Jeanne Brooks

It is with great sadness I heard the news of Frank’s death. Frank gave pleasure and happiness to so many people because of all the selfless work he did for Veteran’s Fencing. I will remember all the trips, dinners and competitions but most of all his delightful personality and his wonderful voice. He will be very sadly missed.

Kate Elvin

My sympathies go to his family. Frank was an example to all fencers and will be missed by me. A joy to have known Frank

Ian Degvile

I am so very sad to learn of the death of Frank Mills. It had been such a pleasure to meet him again at the Vets Competition in Bletchley after my many years abroad in Holland.

I first met Frank in the early 1960s when he started fencing. I was in my first job with Unilever in London and we had a fencing club, Blackfriars Fencing Club, that I had joined and we fenced twice a week in the new sports centre in Unilever House. One day this energetic and very fit young man turned up and said he wanted to learn to fence. His name was Frank and he was a successful cyclist, clearly a dedicated sportsman. I don’t remember why he turned to fencing or how he came to join our club, but his determination and enthusiasm was an inspiration. He learned very fast and within six months of first picking up a foil he had become Surrey Champion! It seemed miraculous and the rest of us in the club were full of admiration. I and my husband, Clive, went to Frank and Betty’s wedding, but by that time I think Frank had moved away from London and had other priorities than fencing. It was so good that he came back to fencing as a Vet and we are all indebted to him for the huge amount of work he did for the Vets organisation.

Kristin Payne

I was so dreadfully sad to hear about Frank. I had decided to write to him instead of email so wrote one while at Commonwealths to post today having got back in the early hours and just read Gillian’s email. So gutted. My memory: Working with Frank at the Olympics was such a bizarre time with so many funny, surreal moments. It was a pleasure to spend time getting to know such an interesting and generous man.

Vanessa Hendra

It is with great regret that I learned of Frank’s passing this morning, I believe that he touched the hearts of all BVF members with his smile, wit, charm, kindness and good sense, the BVF will be much the poorer for his passing. As I write this email I have a picture in my mind of his smiling face greeting me at the last competition.

Gillian asked for any amuse bouche, I am not sure this qualifies but it does illustrate his appreciation of irony.

I believe it was the first year that I entered the Veteran’s Nationals, and for some reason I was on form on the day and managed to get to the semi’s where I was beaten by a long standing rival Barry Coulter. As I was packing my gear away Frank came up to me asking for a few details, as I was new to the BVF.

He was looking so dapper and genial and holding the microphone in the way that professional compères do, that for some bizarre reason the image of a beauty talent contest flashed into my mind, so I started to witter on about how pleased and proud I was and that I wanted to work with children (not something you can say today) and for World Peace. Frank took all of this in his stride not even raising a sardonic eyebrow and made a single note on his pad.

When the time came for Frank to do his Master of Ceremonies and announce the winning line up, he repeated my inane comments with a straight face and then drily remarked that I had obviously got totally confused over which competition I had entered.

As I said it may not qualify for the ‘Oscar Wilde Epigram of the Year’ but it does I believe give an insight to the unflappability, grace and wit of the man, all of which will be sorely missed.

Could you please pass on my condolences and good wishes to his wife and family.

Anthony Silver

Terrible news about Frank. It has all happened far faster than we ever imagined. I hear you are collating memories. For me it was his voice which will ever stay in my mind. His beautiful speaking voice. Perfect at the world champs in Bath in 2006; perfect for after dinner speeches. His dry sense of humour, his stories that turned into jokes, his ability to make people laugh and feel totally comfortable in his company and want more of the same . He was always lovely with his congratulations to me if I won anything or if things didn’t go quite right. He had a calming presence on a group, he never seemed to get flustered.

You must find it quite hard to read what everyone has to say because he seemed to have touched so many people.

Jane Hutchison

It was with great sadness that I learnt of Franks death. No longer part of the Vets I did not find out until last week just how ill he was.

When I joined the vets Frank was one of those who did make you welcome, and when part of a team with him he made sure you felt included. With Dave Sweeney we so nearly got in the medal haul for the fantastic Duel on the Beach some years ago, they were golden days.

I am proud that we set up the Vets Winton Cup together, Frank directly speaking to Bobby Winton to make sure we followed his wishes. I am so glad that it is still continuing.

Although no longer fencing I look back on the days I was part of the committee with humour, a great part of the humour coming from Frank. At this sad time I hope his family can take great comfort from the huge part Frank played in the Vets , and for such a long time, making many friends on the way.

Great speaking voice, great humour, generous and kind that is how I will remember him.

Linda Lawes

Duel on the Beach

The first time I met Frank was at the veterans’ Christmas do in Wrexham 7 years agoo. I had just joined the vets and was feeling very nervous. Frank made me very welcome and introduced me around so I would not be left standing in a corner.

That night Frank made a speech and, although I can’t remember what it was about, I do remember his sonorous voice and perfect enunciation. I was very impressed by his wit and easy smile and throughout my tenure with the vets Frank has always been the first to welcome me to every event, genuinely pleased to see me and all the other new faces.

My thoughts are with Frank’s family – and with his extended family in the veterans. He will be very much missed, not just by the old guard, but by all us whippersnappers who were welcomed into the family with open arms, a cheeky grin and a kind word.

Rest easy Frank.

Wednesday Jones

My sincere sorrow at the passing of Frank, a real gentleman and ambassador of British Fencing. He will be greatly missed.

Maggie Myers

I am very sorry to hear of Frank’s untimely death. I knew him for only a very few years, and was impressed by his manner, which was always reassuring to newcomers like myself, and, as far as I could tell, always balanced and fair.

The evening before I was due to leave home to take part in my first international competition, the Vets’ European Championships in H´nin-Beaumont, I realised that my 350N kit would not meet the requirements. So I telephoned Frank – our Chef de Mission on that occasion – and even his reprimand was merely “Oh! Brian. Did you not read the rules?” expressed in his usual, urbane manner. He quickly suggested that, since he would not be competing because there were so many British Fencers to “look after”, and since we were both lefties, he should still take his own kit with him, to pass across to me when we arrived. A simple solution to a problem not of Frank’s making, and which he could very well have done without.

Frank was so good at handling much more difficult situations with calmness and skill that he could become almost invisible at our veterans’ competitions. I am glad to have known him, even if only briefly, and I do regret that his quietly expressed encouragements, his sensible advice and his unobtrusive sense of humour will not be heard again.

We have all lost a good friend.

Brian Millo

Very sad to hear of Franks passing. I didn’t get to meet him very often, but every time I did it was a pleasure, and he always made me feel like an old friend.

Steve Tatner

It is a fitting tribute to Frank to see so many messages both on the website and on Facebook. He was deservedly very well liked and respected by so many.

It was very sad to see Frank looking so frail and tired when I visited him a few days before his death. We were however able to talk about various things including the future of BVF and I was honoured to receive his assurance that he was happy that BVF would continue to flourish in the safe hands of the current committee. A very poignant moment for me.

Frank faced death with grace, dignity and fortitude. He was happy to be at home with his family and while he was able to enjoyed reading the many messages he had received by email.

When I first joined the BVF committee a few years ago as newsletter editor, Frank made me very welcome. He always brightened up our committee meetings with his quick, dry wit. I have very fond memories of his keeping a very straight face whilst making a dry retort but there would be a twinkle in his eye. And who can forget his after dinner speeches, quizzes and jokes? Such a commanding presence and voice but calm and reassuring too.

Frank – a real gentleman to the end. We will all miss him. My sincere condolences to his widow Betty and to his family and friends.

Gillian Aghajan

I first met Frank way back in the early nineties when I was still a young teenager trying fencing for the first time in Milton Keynes Fencing Club which he ran with Claude Charlotte, and between them I was taught to fence. Frank also gave me my first chance at competition placing me in the team for various competitions and encouraging me along the way. Over twenty years later and Frank was still teaching beginners to fence within the club; without his chairmanship Milton Keynes would not be in the good position it is now in.

I remember hearing him speak of the vets, back when I was a teenager, with such zeal that even then I wanted to be a member. Well, in 2014, I finally got that chance and became a vet myself thanks to his salesmanship those many years ago.

Frank made an incredible leader in whatever position he was in, I have met so few people like him who could hold authority in such an natural and effortless manner. He also had a very quick sense of humour and to be around him was never boring.

Probably the thing that I will remember the most was how proud he was of his family, many times we sat talking about how his son and daughter were doing both of whom clearly made him very happy.

One thing I can be sure of is that Frank’s tireless work for the vets and MKFC means that whilst he maybe gone from amongst us, his legacy most certainly hasn’t and he has left the rest of us a sound foundation to build upon.

Mark Wilson
Captain – Milton Keynes Fencing Club

Thank you so much for your enthusiasm and dedication to the world of Veterans fencing. It was a pleasure and privilege to have known you.

Jon Nottingham

I am so very sad that Frank has left us. I shall always remember him as the perfect gentleman. Also for his good humour, generous spirit and the kindest twinkly eyes.

Grace Coulter

Such sadness at hearing about Frank dying. Fencing will never be the same without him. Like lots of others, I remember the kind, calm manner, wicked sense of humour, and being so welcoming when you were a new Vet, plus always being so pleased to see you every time you met. There was one competition I went to and while outside for a break, I find Frank in tweed jacket over fencing jacket, breeches and smoking a cigarette. We hugged, and I said “Oh Frank, you smell nice”. The response was “Givenchy for Men” .. . . . “The only gentlemanly thing about me”. I will miss him a lot, and like others, my condolences to his family.

Frances Woodward

I will remember Frank firstly for his after dinner speeches at Vets events. He was always entertaining and I don’t recall him ever repeating a story.

Usually the name of a Vet would be woven in somewhere. Fred (Sheppard) always featured in one of his stories while the rest of us were on edge wondering whether we were going to be the next victim. My turn came one year and the only thing I remember, apart from it being very funny, was that the story involved an encounter between me (intoxicated) and a fridge late at night. I wish I could remember the rest. His store of stories seemed infinite. He was a natural speaker with a mellifluous voice and was the obvious choice as Master of Ceremonies at the Vets World Championships that we held in Bath in 2006.

It was about that time that he bought a bright red and very powerful motorbike. Frank in a crash hat and leathers? It didn’t seem right.

Frank proposed to the Vets committee that we host the next European Team Championships and we are now committed to holding the event in 2016. Hopefully we can make it a show he would have been proud of. But how can we replace him as Master of Ceremonies?

Frank was diagnosed with cancer a couple of years ago and he lost a lot of weight in a short space of time. It was remarkable that he responded to treatment and seemed to make a full recovery, getting back to his previous weight, looking and feeling well. He was confident that he had beaten it. But it proved a false dawn and only 2 months ago he suddenly started to experience new symptoms and now he is gone. It was so quick.

Dear Frank, I shall miss your speeches, your jokes and one-liners, your gentle put-downs when I have a rant in committee, your humanity and your friendship.

John Mason

Our deepest sympathies go to Frank’s family. He was a lovely man who always made time to speak to everyone and make them welcome. I remember when I (Mike) told him I was starting fencing and was joining the vets and would be “one of you”, his response was, “but Mike you’ve always been one of us.”

Viv shares my sentiments and moreso, remembering the friendship and support she always received from Frank.

He will be sorely missed by everyone.

With fondest memories,

Mike & Viv Frith

I will remember Frank as being very polite, always helpful and enthusiastic and friendly. A left-handed fencer who enjoyed every fight. I know that all the fencers will miss his mellow commentating voice and his after dinner jokes and wit. It is certainly very sad to lose him so soon.

Sue Church

I remember Frank with a big smile on my face. We all remember him was the perfect gentleman with a charming voice and a gracious heart. What may surprise many is that he had a wonderful wild side. He rode a powerful motorbike, had a wicked sense of humour, enjoyed a cigarette and a drink and was great fun. ‘Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in an attractive and well-preserved body but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, champagne in one hand, strawberries in the other, body thoroughly used up, totally worn out and screaming   WOO HOO, WHAT A RIDE !!!’

Well done, Frank.

Richard Bonehill

Very sad to hear of Frank’s passing, he taught me everything I know about Foil Fencing and helped me grow as a fencer and as a person. Being a young teenager at the time, it was a very positive experience to have a role model such as Frank, the perfect gentleman with a very quick blade.

Frank had this amazing way of fencing me, always waiting for the first attack and countering perfectly. A humbling experience indeed.

He will be sorely missed and I will always think of him, especially as he inspired me to start training to be a Foil coach.

Tim Wood

I first met Frank when we were both members of the Surrey team and he was Captain as well as being members of the South East team. We eventually both moved off in different directions but it was with great joy to meet up again in the vets. His kindness and help to me when I joined the committee as a complete newby helped to smooth my path. His repartee – and naughty stories – were such a delight as were his after dinner speeches. One thing not widely known that when a friend and colleague of his was seriously ill, he ran his PR agency as well as his own business until such time as Bob recovered – what an incredibly generous and caring man. When Frank was first ill he so wanted to be at the Winton Cup and I was able to help – only to be rewarded by flowers as a ‘thank you’ – yet it was my privilege and delight to help. I was also privileged to see him the day before he died and as always from him, kind words. Like everyone, my sympathy goes to his family but so pleased for him and them that he was able to meet his grandson which he so looked forward to. He leaves a wonderful legacy in vets fencing and will be a hard act to follow.

Marcia Stretch

When I joined the vets, I will always remember the warm welcome that Frank gave me and I instantly felt as though I had been part of the vets for a long time. Frank was a real lovely gentleman, great sense of humour, always a smile and always making time to talk. He will be missed greatly.

Tracy Russen

I think I can safely speak for most, if not all, Vets fencers when I say that we will all miss Frank enormously. We all have him to thank for his unique and personal contribution to Vets fencing that has so enlivened our lives. I expect that he will have something set-up for those of us who manage to join him behind the pearly gates!

Neal Mallett

On behalf of all Canadian Veterans, we convey our deepest sympathies to BVF and Frank’s family and friends.

A great loss to Veterans Fencing.

Gaby Weisz
Veterans Committee
Canadian Fencing Federation

The loss of Frank is a sad loss; he was a fantastic man and had a great character; his speeches were second to none.

Stephen Watson