By Ian Fisher (3L)
Professor Frank McCoy passed away May 22, 2009, at the age of 86, to little fanfare or recognition within the legal community. As he was in life, so he was in death — modest and unassuming. Yet his was a life packed full of adventure, intrigue and accomplishment. One might never know that McCoy had traveled the world, knew at least a dozen languages, was trained as a paratrooper, or worked as an operative in China for a top secret government organization that preceded the CIA, serving with Chinese forces to defeat the Japanese during World War II. Later, he worked for the United States Foreign Service, parlaying his eloquence in various languages into successful missions in Shanghai, Tokyo and Madagascar — holding his ground as the Chinese Nationalists fled to Taiwan to escape the advancing Chinese Communist troops. McCoy’s unassuming demeanor and gentle personality rarely revealed the adventures of his youth.
“He would never talk about himself or his accomplishments,” said Dennis Calfee, a UF professor of law and Alumni Research Scholar. “The only way that we were able to [learn anything] was that we worked with him for years and picked up details along the way.”
McCoy served in the United States Army after earning his undergraduate degree at UF and served in the Office of Strategic Services (now the CIA) during World War II in China. Following his service, McCoy returned to UF and earned a master’s degree in geography, writing his thesis on Miami International Airport. For research, he worked for Pan American Airways as a flight attendant, flying to Cuba, South America and Central America, said Joe Little, an emeritus professor of law and Alumni Research Scholar. Little and Calfee also found a Pan Am advertisement encouraging travel to Guatemala in which McCoy was featured.
“Of course we wondered what else he was doing,” Calfee said. “We’ll leave that to speculation whether he was working for the government at that time.”
After earning his master’s, McCoy joined the United States Foreign Service but returned to Gainesville for law school, graduating with his law degree in 1955. He began his more than 40-year career at UF Law in 1956, first as a law librarian, then as a tenured member of the law school’s teaching faculty. He married Mary Watson McCoy, who was a UF librarian and also a WWII “China hand.” Mary predeceased McCoy, leaving no children or immediate relatives. Though McCoy retired in 1998, he continued to teach until 2003 and maintained his office at the law school until his death. When he died, UF Law lost a one-of-a-kind wealth of knowledge, Little and Calfee said. McCoy was the only UF Law professor +teaching admiralty law, but also taught family law and legal history.
“He was an absolutely incredible resource,” Calfee said. “It didn’t matter what you asked him, he could come up with something.”
At McCoy’s funeral, Little met someone who served with McCoy in his Gainesville reserve unit.
“He said to me, ‘When I first met Frank and he came to Gainesville and joined our unit, I thought he was joshing us on some of these things — going to China and all that,’ ” Little said. “Then this guy told me a story, he said ‘We were in Washington on our two-week duty one time. We went into this Chinese restaurant. Frank disappeared and after a while, he came back with the proprietor of this place speaking Chinese. He had known this guy in China when he was over there. And everything else that I found out about Frank later was exactly the way he had told us.’ ”
Little and Calfee said McCoy was as good a friend and confidant as a person could have.“We miss him,” Calfee said. “We dearly miss him.”