The Life & Legacy of
Frank E. Gilbert, Esq.
Frank Edward Gilbert was born to the late Arthur Stanley Gilbert and Helen Chase Gilbert on November 23, 1936 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Frank’s father, Arthur, was a supervisor at the Curtis Publishing Company, and Helen was a school teacher in the Philadelphia public school system. Frank was the youngest of their three children, with two older sisters, Neva Gilbert Scott and Jane Gilbert Williams. Both sisters held positions as administrators in the Philadelphia school system.
Reared in West Philadelphia at 4045 Aspen Street, Frank attended St. Ignatius Loyola Catholic School and served as an altar boy for the St. Ignatius Roman Catholic church.
Frank was two years old in 1938, when his mother and his father’s sister, Mary Gilbert Manly, along with 45 other ladies, founded the Jack and Jill Club (as it was then known) in Philadelphia. At the time, the club’s youth participation was limited to 50 children. Frank was one of the organization’s first and few “Jacks, which is now has a membership enjoyed by more than 40,000 African American families. He remained an active participant in the club until he was 21. Jack and Jill of America, Inc. remained one of the hallmarks of Frank’s childhood and the friendships he formed were lifelong. In 2012, he participated in the club’s 75th anniversary celebration as one of the few remaining original members. Frank’s daughter, Stephanie, became the organization’s first National Historian.
Following Frank’s graduation from elementary school, he attended Philadelphia’s Saint Thomas Moore Catholic High School, class of 1953. Later, he would serve as Trustee for the Saint Thomas Moore Society.
Frank’s childhood summers were spent enjoying time with family on Martha’s Vineyard and Cape Cod, Massachusetts where his aunts lived year-round. He spent time in Highland Beach, Maryland with his mother’s dear friend, Phyllis Terrell Langston, the sole surviving child of Mary Church Terrell. And Frank also spent time various Pennsylvania overnight camps and was known for sending his sisters letters threatening to arrive home with scary reptiles, much to their protestation.
Frank’s great grandfather, Oliver Cromwell Kelly, had taken the Gilbert name from a Quaker abolitionist in Lancaster, PA to conceal his identity while fleeing slavery in 1848 via the Underground Railroad. Oliver, along with his wife and children, later formed the Gilbert Jubilee singers, performing across the northeastern united states. Oliver’s son, Stanley, who was Frank’s grandfather, became an opera singer and later, choirmaster and organist at The African Episcopal Church of St. Thomas in Philadelphia. In keeping with the family’s musical legacy, Frank played the cello, while his eldest sister Neva played piano. Jane, the most talented musician of the Gilbert children, was a child prodigy at the violin, and awarded a full music scholarship at Chestnut Hill College and performed with the Philadelphia orchestra before the age of 16.
Frank’s graduation from high school was much celebrated as he was awarded a scholarship to Villanova University.
In 1954, the Gilbert family moved from West Philadelphia to the East Mount Airy section of the city, having purchased a home at 423 E. Hortter Street. That following fall, Frank went off to college.
At Villanova University, Frank joined the Justice Hughes Law Club and served as counsellor for the undergraduate dormitories. In the fall of his sophomore year, he pledged a lifetime of commitment and service to his beloved Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc., Psi Chapter, the city chapter chartered at University of Pennsylvania in 1920.
Frank graduated from Villanova University undergraduate in 1957 with degree in economics and, following in the footsteps of his family friend and mentor, The Honorable Chief Justice Robert N.C. Nix Jr., Frank continued at Villanova through law school.
Upon graduating with law degree in 1960, Frank attended Northwestern University to complete courses for prosecuting attorneys.
In 1962, he joined the Philadelphia District Attorney’s office, where he served as Chief of the Fraud Division and Acting Chief of the Major Trial Division.
Always wishing the best for Frank, Bob Nix arranged for Frank to go on a blind-date with Diane Lola Davis, who was also living in the same West Philadelphia neighborhood and was employed by the Bell Telephone Company. Frank and Diane fell head over heels for each other and were married on August 14, 1965 at Our Mother of Sorrows Roman Catholic Church by the Reverend Monsignor James Daly, who was known for his staunch support of Philadelphia’s black Catholic community. The Gilberts and Father Daly formed a spiritual bond.
Immediately following their wedding, Frank and Diane moved to The Plaza apartments on Philadelphia’s Benjamin Franklin Parkway. During the time, The Plaza practiced racial segregation and placed African American residents on the same floors. As such, Frank and Diane lived on the floor with the Philadelphia Eagles players and their wives, an experience which gave them fond and lasting memories and an abundance of hilarious stories to share.
In 1966, at the time of his honorable discharge from the U.S. Army Reserves, Military Police, Frank accepted a position in the United States Virgin Islands as Assistant Attorney General for the USVI Government. Frank and Diane relocated to the Caribbean island of St. Thomas, where they welcomed their first child, daughter Stephanie Helen. During this time, Frank physically assisted with the construction of the clubhouse of the Our Lady of Perpetual Help Roman Catholic Church (Mafolie Church) on the north side of St. Thomas. Frank and several others chartered the Virgin Islands Chapter of the Federal Bar Association.
In December 1968, the young family returned to Philadelphia, living in East Mount Airy on Meehan Avenue, and Frank joined the Philadelphia law firm Morgan, Lewis and Bockius, where he practiced civil litigation for corporate clients. From 1969 until 1972, he also served on the faculty of Temple University School of Law as a lecturer.
Frank and Diane’s second child, son Michael Arthur, was born in 1971, completing the family. Frank was a loving and creative dad. He ensured that his children were raised with keen awareness of his relentless support and encouragement. Being an avid hobby-historian, he also ensured that his children remained aware of the legacy of the Gilbert family, the importance of their connection to community, the growth of their faith, and the negative impact of slavery, segregation and intolerance on African Americans in the United States. Frank took his children to Wings Field where he took flying lessons, taught them to fish, visited museums, shared his love of politics and without fail, ensured that his family ate dinner together each evening and attended Mass every Sunday.
In 1972, Frank joined the Insurance Company of North America as assistant counsel, and in 1974, he joined the Philadelphia Defender’s Association, practicing juvenile defense.
A classic car enthusiast, Frank’s first car, a 1962 Volvo Rally Sport, served the family as their primary transportation until 1982. Frank also drove a 1954 Ford Customline. On any warm day in Philadelphia, Frank could be found zipping around blasting calypso music in his convertible 1971 Porsche 914, which served as his primary car until his retirement.
Frank and Diane traveled extensively abroad, enjoying time in Europe, Africa and their beloved Caribbean islands. He especially enjoyed sailing charters. The highlights of his travels included several sailing trips through the Caribbean, most notably the French West Indies and the Grenadine Islands. Frank especially enjoyed the culture, music, food and people of Rio de Janeiro.
In 1976, when Frank was appointed to the Attorney General’s office in the Government of the US Virgin Islands, the family returned to the US Virgin Islands, living in NorthStar Village, a mountaintop neighborhood overlooking Magens Bay and later on Denmark Hill, above Charlotte Amalie. The children were enrolled in school, island-life was embraced, and lifelong friendships were formed. Frank served as president of the U.S. and British Virgin Island Catholic Diocesan Board of Education, an executive board member of the Virgin Islands Council of the Boy Scouts of America where he served, vice president of the Virgin Islands Chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc, a member of and counsel to the Virgin Islands Governor’s Commission on Human Resources, and the Rotary Club of St. Thomas – all while hosting family and friends from the mainland as frequent guests.
1978 ushered in a new opportunity for Frank and his family when they returned to the US mainland as he began a position with the Philadelphia City Solicitor’s Office. The family returned to East Mount Airy, Philadelphia where Frank purchased his own “twin” home on beautiful and leafy Hortter Street, across from his parents. One of Frank’s favorite pastimes was to work on his home and garden. His guest bedroom walls are adorned with murals he painted for Diane, depicting life in the Caribbean and entitled “Nana’s Dream”.
Frank followed his father in becoming a member of Ye Old Philadelphia Club, a Philadelphia social club for African American men. Founded in 1926, the club fosters engagement in civic and professional ventures whilst celebrating fellowship amongst members. Frank eventually came to serve as a multi-term president of the club and in 2012 was recognized for his many years of dedication and service.
Continually active in civic engagement, Frank served on the Board of Directors of both the Stephen Smith Home and Stephen Smith Towers. He also served as the Activities Chair of the Philadelphia Council of Boy Scouts of America and a member of the Big Brother and Big Sister Association of Philadelphia and held membership in the Serra Club of Philadelphia.
Frank joined the Philadelphia District Attorney’s office 1980 and culminated his career as a senior trial assistant in the DA’s charging unit, retiring in 2006.
Frank and Diane practiced and enriched their Catholic faith at Holy Cross Parish - Philadelphia, Our Lady of Perpetual Help Parish – St. Thomas, The Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul – St. Thomas, St. Theresa of Child Jesus - Philadelphia, and currently at St. Raymond of Penafort – Philadelphia. Frank was a longtime and active member of Knights of Columbus, St. Jude Council #4273, Philadelphia.
In Frank’s final years, he and Diane (Pop-pop and Nana) made frequent trips to the U.S. and British Virgin Islands and had become especially fond of Cane Garden Bay on the island of Tortola, where the Frank and Diane regarded the residents, especially the Rhymers, as extended family. Frank celebrated his 70th birthday with Diane and four of their best friends and travel companions on a cruise from Lisbon, Portugal through Cape Verde Islands, finally reaching Rio de Janeiro on the date of his birthday, where he danced the samba on Copacabana Beach as he had done 30 years prior.
On Thursday, September 17, 2020, Frank E. Gilbert, Esq. died in the city he loved from Alzheimer’s disease complications. He is survived by his wife of 55 years, Diane Lola Gilbert; daughter, Stephanie Helen; son, Michael Arthur Sr; grandchildren, Christopher, Gabrielle, Michael Jr, Justin, Joshua, Aliyah; sister-in-law, Ruth Deborah Taylor.
Submitted With Love,
The life of Frank will be celebrated with a Mass of Christian Burial on Saturday, September 26 at St. Raymond of Penafort Roman Catholic Church, 1350 Vernon Road, Philadelphia, PA 19150. Viewing: 8-9:30am. Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Ceremony: 9:30am. Mass: 10am. Interment: Ivy Hill Cemetery.
Covid: Restrictions will be recognized inside the sanctuary. No repast. Those wishing to participate on the front lawn of church are invited to bring a chair, where audio will be broadcasted. Livestream and replay available at https://livestream.com/saintraymond/events/9312964.
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