Remembering Frank McGonagle

Written by Amy Acton, RN, BSN on February 19, 2020

The weekend after Frank McGonagle died, I found solace on the beach. I listened to the waves rolling in and watched the leaves gently falling in their brilliant color all around me as I walked back through the woods. I wanted to spend some time near the water, alone, just remembering my dear friend and colleague.

Frank was a longtime Phoenix Society champion, who died peacefully at home with his wife, Arlene, and his family nearby. He was a fellow sailor, and our mutual love of water was the foundation of a fast friendship at our first Phoenix World Burn Congress.


For those who never had the opportunity to meet Frank, he played a significant role in the history of Phoenix Society. His wisdom and vision for Phoenix Society to become a leader in the burn community has had a lasting impact on our work. Frank and Arlene became involved years after Frank’s burn injury and the loss of his first wife in a car crash. Eventually, he was a board member, playing a key role in the transformation of the organization after the retirement of Phoenix Society founder, Alan Breslau. 

Many have said that without Frank’s calm and steady leadership, Phoenix Society would not be here today to serve survivors worldwide. As far as I’m concerned, they’re not wrong.

Frank McGonagle

Frank was one of the best storytellers I’ve ever met, and he was passionate about helping Phoenix Society tell our story. He updated our logo and brand to help us tell the story of our work, and he even pitched in and published this magazine for several years. He supported the development of our very first website with his staff at Brenton Productions, helping us reach many more each year.

I will always remember Frank’s determination to connect. When The Station nightclub fire occurred near his home, he was passionate about bringing this community — and all the support it offered — forward to the survivors. He became instrumental in Phoenix Society’s efforts to support those injured in The Station fire over several years, serving as an advisor to the Rhode Island Foundation Station Nightclub Fire Children's Scholarship Fund and personally reaching out to many survivors when they needed him most.  


Most of all, Frank was a mentor to me. He walked beside me when I wondered if our organization could weather the next storm. The last time we spoke on the phone, he was cheering us on as we continued to strive to expand our access to many more.  

Frank loved this community, and he was so grateful for the wisdom and love he gained by being part of it. I will be forever changed by knowing him — and the time we sailed together dodging lobster pots! 


Frank was a true phoenix, lifting us all ever higher, and a steadfast champion of the burn community and all it represents. 

Your Impact is Greater > Than You Know

I can’t begin to describe how integral Frank was in my recovery from The Station nightclub fire. He was greatly responsible for introducing me to the Phoenix Society for Burn Survivors. Frank and I had hours and hours of phone conversations when I was lost and in denial when struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Getting to sit with him at a World Burn Congress and talk (learn) was more than a joy, it was an honor. Frank will be greatly missed, but he has touched so many of us in our journey to become survivors and leaves behind a trail of countless burn survivors that can say “Frank helped me.”

— Rob Feeney


There will never be another person like Frank.

— Scout Glore


He will be greatly missed. Frank was one of the first people to reach out to our community following The Station nightclub fire in 2003.

— Victoria Eagan


Going to my very first World Burn Congress, I rode on the plane with Frank. What a wonderful man! The burn community will miss him dearly.

— Joy Magee


He was incredible ambassador and someone I was proud to call my friend.

— Sue Stenhouse


Loved Frank...I have many happy memories of past burn conferences and great conversations.

— Linda Rae Llewellyn


I shall never forget Frank and his spirit! He was an amazing human being!

— Shirley Massey


He was a beautiful soul that brightened the room with his kindness and grace. He was a pillar to Phoenix Society and the burn community, and he welcomed me and so many others into that family.

— Megan Geerling


Frank was a remarkable man. He had a wonderful (and I assume hard won) sense of grace and balance, and a quiet wisdom. I recall some wonderful conversations. He is missed by many.

— David Vogel