By Joe Barkovich, Scribbler-at-large
I’d never seen Bob Fralick with a stogie between his fingers before.
Yet there he was that day in his office, feet up on his desk, a fat cigar in his hand, smoke rings circling around his head. The moment provided a lasting image.
It was a winding down of sorts. A man had just been charged with second-degree murder in the 1987 slaying of a young Welland woman. That investigation had been gruelling and emotionally-draining, not only for the victim’s family but the chief investigator and his team. And now that it had come to this, NRP Inspector Robert Fralick could sit back in his chair, puff on the cigar and, in a sense, breathe easier.
I’d known Bob Fralick many years. It started when I was a rookie reporter and the Welland police station was located in the dank bowels of Welland city hall, then at 411 East Main St.
Being new to the police beat, it took a while to figure out why Bob called me “Jimmy” when I made the morning rounds to see what was happening here in the “Naked City” – a popular crime series on TV – as the detectives joked about it.
The name was an oblique reference to Jimmy Olsen. You know – the “cub reporter” in the Superman comic books. I put one and one together when one of the coppers finally said: “Here comes Jimmy Olsen. What kind of news do we have for him today?” Somewhere along the line I got promoted and it came from Bob himself: Jimmy turned into Clark, as in Clark Kent, mild mannered reporter for the Daily Planet newspaper. It stuck for many years.
But I had one for him too: Clousseau, as in Inspector Jacques Clousseau, the hapless, bungling police detective. Not that Fralick was bungling or hapless or an accident waiting to happen, as was his namesake. He was anything but. He didn’t mind the tongue-in-cheek name dropping, not even when it was dropped in the presence of others
We were friends. There were visits and dinners with Bob and wife Mary at their home on Fitch Street; trips to Ransomville Speedway in Ransomville, N. Y., to watch son Doug drive in the stock car races; stories and lessons about the exotic parrots he had taken up as a hobby – it turned into a passion; invites to social nights with Welland cops when the Welland Police Association was still a big thing – I recall chicken in the basket and beer nights at the Crowland Hotel on Ontario Road; and after their retirement, draught beer and wings with a handful of Welland coppers at local pubs.
As some time happens though, life got in the way of things. We didn’t socialize so often although our paths crossed here and there. On two or three occasions while working in the front yard rose beds, I heard a car slow down and a loud voice call out from the middle of First Avenue: “If it isn’t the rose queen of Welland!” It was Bob at his tauntingly playful best. When I shared that story with son Doug he said: “That’s him, that’s the old man.”
Bob was never one to mince words. He was a straight shooter, never a fence sitter. He was outspoken at times but caring for those who were close to him and part of his inner circle.
A few weeks ago I’d heard he was ill and the visits started again. Not just by me – there was always someone calling to ask if he could drop by or make a stop at a grocery store for something Bob might have wanted or needed. I was just one of several. With wife Mary in long-term-care, Bob was home alone.
Retired cop Mick Riddle was there one Saturday morning to pick up a shopping list for groceries at Pupo’s. Other days, I passed folks I didn’t know by name coming or going through the front doorway. Bob had friends, you see.
Martin Walsh, who retired as deputy chief of Niagara Regional Police and who knew Bob way back – their time on the Welland Police Department – had this to say about him: “He was a reliable, well liked officer, highly regarded by all who had an opportunity to work with him. A dedicated police officer who faced every challenging situation with a concern for the victim and the reputation of the police service.”
Mick Riddle said in an email: “Bob was a fantastic person who was dedicated to and took great pride in his family. In his younger days he was an avid outdoorsman enjoying hunting and fishing. As years went by he become an enthusiastic hobbyist as a collector of clocks, Zippo lighters and more. As a police officer he was a tenacious investigator and well respected supervisor. He was never at a loss for words and certainly was not afraid to speak his mind.”
A few days before he went into the hospital, we’d made plans to buy barbecue lamb at the Croatian National Home’s Mother’s Day lamb and pork barbeque and, well, pig out on it. I thought Bob would make it to the day, but it wasn’t to be, death got in the way. Bob Fralick, 82, one of Welland’s (and Niagara’s) finest, died Tuesday morning, May 6, 2014 at Welland hospital. Adieu, Inspector, you will be missed by many.
(A former reporter and city editor, Joe Barkovich lives in his hometown of Welland, Ontario, Canada’s Rose City.)