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Tributes to local golf’s great trailblazer

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Much respected on and off the course: Frankie Rabain

Golf champion and veteran professional Frankie Rabain died on Thursday. He was 85.

Mr Rabain trained as a tiler in his youth and later became an accomplished guitarist, performing with top musicians such as Lance Hayward.

But in adulthood, he was synonymous with golf and its development in Bermuda.

Mr Rabain became an ambassador for the sport at home and abroad and coached countless golfers.

A professional golfer for decades at Ocean View Golf and Country Club and then Port Royal, Mr Rabain was made an honorary member of the Professional Golfers Association in Britain in 2005.

A former president of the Bermuda Professional Golfers Association, he was also the first Bermudian to qualify and play at the Open Championship.

MPs across the House of Assembly paid tribute to Mr Rabain yesterday.

Kim Swan of the Progressive Labour Party said Rabain was a “trailblazer among that great group of golfers, the first generation that played in an integrated Bermuda”.

He added that Ocean View in Devonshire was the club that broke Bermuda’s colour barrier as “the only course where anyone could play”, including black people and Portuguese people.

Mr Swan, himself a professional golfer, said Mr Rabain was a latecomer to the sport and was coached by his late wife, Alora.

He added: “Because he started as a tradesman, which he learnt from someone else, he believed in upgrading throughout his life. Frankie and his contemporaries worked hard and gave it their all at whatever they did.”

Mr Swan said Mr Rabain was a “traditional golf pro, a concessionaire and businessman” who ran the books at the club.

Mr Rabain won the Bermuda Open twice, in 1973 and 1977.

Mr Swan also recalled his “award-winning smile” and humour.

He said: “He couldn’t remember names, so everyone was ‘Champ’, and he made you feel like a champ.

“And over the last 20 years as I knew him, he liked to be called François.”

Diallo Rabain, the education minister, remembered golf lessons from his great-uncle and Opposition leader Jeanne Atherden hailed the “musician and very patient teacher” who became known as “Mr Port Royal”.

She added: “Whenever he went anywhere, he represented Bermuda more than himself.”

PLP MP Rolfe Commissiong said he had known Mr Rabain as a youngster through his family’s musical roots during “the golden era of tourism” when local entertainment thrived.

Mr Rabain was remembered by Dexter Smith, Editor of The Royal Gazette.

Mr Smith said: “Frankie Rabain was a gentleman of the game of golf and will be sorely missed.

“As a young boy looking for a hustle as a caddie in the early Seventies, he was the first person at Ocean View to allow me to carry his bag.

“What lives with me for ever whenever I think about ‘Pro’ is him informing me at about age 10 when I was looking for my tip that a round of golf is more than nine holes.”

Opposition MP Michael Dunkley called Mr Rabain “a true gentleman and a class act at all times”.

He added: “He always had a smile on his face and could put a smile on your face. He helped put golf and Port Royal on the map and he nurtured so many young Bermudians. May he rest in peace. He will never be forgotten.”

Friend and Ocean View colleague Harrison Simons said he had given Mr Rabain “the key to our pro shop” when he became president of the club in 1972.

Mr Simons added: “He was an excellent professional who taught many young people the game. As a manager we could not have asked for a better personality. Very firm, very strict, and positive. The island’s golfing fraternity has lost a stalwart. He will be a very big miss.”

Mr Rabain kept active in retirement and earned top-level coaching certifications in 2007 at the age of 75.

He told The Royal Gazette at the time: “I always try and keep the mind alive by challenging myself with new things.”

Cheryl-Lynne Thompson, president of Ocean View Golf and Country Club, said Mr Rabain was a “magnificent trailblazer” who was schooled by another Ocean View legend, Herman Bascome.

She added: “He was encouraged to expand upon his knowledge internationally and extended his experience to tourists, visitors and young people in Bermuda while promoting the sport.

“When Mr Bascome retired at Ocean View in 1964, Frankie became professional/manager, serving until 1976.

“Many times he worked tirelessly with the members who would dedicate themselves to improving every component of the golf facility.

“Frankie was the first professional from Ocean View to play in the Goodwill tournament. That was indeed an accomplishment for him but the members of Ocean View will never forget the impact that Frankie had on establishing and dedicating his time and attention to the junior programmes at the club.

“In closing, in Frankie’s own words, ‘it was through perseverance and extraordinary commitment’ that he was as successful as he was in golf.

“Mr Rabain was an amazing man who made an invaluable impression and created lasting influence on many.”

Golfing legend: Frankie Rabain (Photograph supplied)