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Mr. Frechette, shown celebrating BC ’s 10-8 victory over Holy Cross in 1964, was a two-way starter at tackle during three winning seasons
Mr. Frechette, shown celebrating BC ’s 10-8 victory over Holy Cross in 1964, was a two-way starter at tackle during three winning seasonsBoston College

After being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, former Boston College football star John Frechette had a conversation with his wife, Pat, about giving what she called “the ultimate gift” after his death.

“The game of football changed John’s life and opened doors to him,” she said, “and if he could make the game safer for other people, it was OK with him, with me, and our children.”

Mr. Frechette wanted to donate his brain, spinal cord, and eyes to Boston University’s Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy Center, which researches the long-term consequences of repetitive brain trauma, particularly in athletes and military personnel.

“We’re tremendously grateful,” said Dr. Ann McKee, professor of neurology and pathology at the BU School of Medicine. “Our work depends on donations of altruistic and generous families like the Frechettes.”

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Mr. Frechette, who cherished his time in the early 1960s on the gridiron for BC and the teammates who became lifelong friends, died of complications of Alzheimer’s on July 29 in Avow Hospice in Naples, Fla. He was 71 and had divided his time between Mashpee and Naples the past 11 years.

Teamwork, loyalty, and dedication “were part of his core,” said his daughter, Jule of Quincy. “People felt they were John Frechette’s best friend because he made them feel so valued.”

After his BC teammate and college roommate Bob Pisinski died in 2008, Mr. Frechette wrote to then-BC athletic director Gene DeFilippo.

Pisinski, Mr. Frechette wrote, did not receive a football letter because of a series of knee operations that kept him off the field, but he believed Pisinski deserved one because he never missed a game or practice.

“The passion John showed about his friend, BC football, and the college was so great there was nothing I could say but yes,” DeFilippo recalled.

Four years ago, Mr. Frechette telephoned Pisinski’s wife, Diane Cronin Pisinski, and asked her to meet him at the Square Cafe in Hingham, and to bring her daughter, Heather. Mr. Frechette arrived with former BC football teammate Frank Grywalski and former BC track athlete Gerry Govatsos. They presented the Pisinskis with a framed BC football letter in Bob Pisinski’s name, which DeFilippo provided.

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“It was a beautiful moment,’’ Diane Pisinski said. “John was very excited and emotional about it, and of course, we were surprised and very touched.”

Mr. Frechette was a three-sport athlete at Waltham High School and spent a post-graduate year at Hebron Academy in Maine. He was inducted into the Waltham High and Hebron Academy athletic halls of fame, and his academic and athletic success at Hebron led to a football scholarship at Boston College.

At BC, he was a two-way starter at tackle during three winning seasons under head coach Jim Miller and the biggest player on the team at 6 foot 3 inches and 250 pounds.

“No one worked harder on those teams than John, who later in life was a generous behind-the-scenes benefactor to BC,” said Eddie Miller, the college’s former sports information director. “And no one was more well liked.”

Mr. Frechette’s older brother, Terry, a teammate for two years on the BC football squad, said their parents were gracious hosts on Thanksgiving Day for nearly 50 at their Waltham home.

“We’d bring along six or seven BC teammates and our mom would make sure their clothes were ironed before we went back to campus,” said Terry, who lives in Weston. In 1972, Terry and Mr. Frechette won the Weston Golf Club member-guest Presidents Cup championship.

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The Boston Patriots drafted Mr. Frechette in 1965 after he graduated from BC.

He was playing semiprofessionally with the Lowell Giants when the Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers purchased his contract.

Although his career ended at Packers camp in 1967 because of a shoulder injury, Mr. Frechette had great respect for legendary Green Bay coach Vince Lombardi.

“John said that there would be holy hell going on in the locker room, but when Lombardi walked in, you could hear a pin drop,” his brother said.

Although Mr. Frechette was not on the team when the Packers repeated as Super Bowl champs, his friends presented him with a replica of the championship trophy.

For many years after his football career, Mr. Frechette lived in Toledo, Ohio, and worked for Owens-Illinois, retiring in 2000 as vice president and director of labor relations.

He kept a plaque in his office with a Lombardi quote: “The difference between a successful person and others is not a lack of strength, not a lack of knowledge, but rather a lack of will.”

A prolific reader and letter writer who was proud of his penmanship, Mr. Frechette sent a four-page letter to his daughter after she graduated from Providence College and was spending the summer in Newport, R.I.

“I hadn’t applied for a job yet and he wasn’t happy about it,” said Jule, who is now executive director for clinical affiliations for Massachusetts General Hospital and Southern New Hampshire Health System. “I could feel the steam coming off Dad’s letter, and his final words were: ‘Practice is over, the game is about to begin. Are you ready to play?’ ”

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John David Frechette proposed to Patricia Mary Coleman six weeks after they met on a blind date. They married in 1969 at a ceremony officiated by the Rev. Francis Frechette, one of four of Mr. Frechette’s uncles who played high school football in Waltham.

The wedding party included Grywalski and several other BC teammates. “The shortest man in the group was 6 foot 1,” Pat recalled.

When their son Josh was a starting defensive end on the Williams College football team in the early 1990s, Mr. Frechette often scheduled business meetings in Williamstown so he could watch him play.

“He never missed a game and would sit by himself in the far left-hand corner of the stands, and we had a special way of communicating,” said his son, who lives in San Rafael, Calif., and is athletic director and lacrosse coach at Marin Academy.

“My father taught us that we should be interested in the greater good,” Josh said. “His final gift was an opportunity to do the same.”

In addition to his wife, daughter, brother, and son, Mr. Frechette leaves another son, Sean of Brooklyn, N.Y., and two grandchildren.

A funeral Mass will be said at 10:30 a.m. on Saturday in St. Julia Church in Weston.

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Two days before Mr. Frechette died, Grywalski visited.

“His thoughts went back to his BC days, and he would ask about his friends, who could always count on him for anything,” Grywalski said.

At the moment Mr. Frechette died, his wife was holding his hand and reading aloud an article about events in Boston.

“It was where he grew up,” she said, “and where the path to his success in life began.”


Marvin Pave can be reached
at marvin.pave@rcn.com.