Eighty years after graduating, Frank Hardison ’39 has all but checked off his bucket list—but at 102, he still has a wanderlust for new adventures
Frank Hardison was born April 13, 1917—one week after the United States’ entry into World War I, and less than three years after Occidental moved to its Eagle Rock home. As a child growing up in Charleston, S.C., “I can remember having the family’s last dime going down to the grocery store and being trusted with it,” he says. “A dime could buy a lot at that time.”It will be 80 years in June since Hardison graduated from Occidental. To this day he recalls the camaraderie of his Phi Gamma Delta fraternity brothers; friendships with professors such as Robert Cleland, George Day, and Osgood Hardy; and “the best malts in the valley. Those are great memories,” he declares. “I’d like to live them over again.”
At 102, Hardison has outlived his wife of 67 years, his younger brother, and all but a handful of his contemporaries. “I’ve lost the majority of my friends but I’ve been lucky in making a lot of new friends,” he says. “I can’t emphasize enough how lucky I’ve been to have the kind of life I’ve had.”
Hardison moved with his family to California when he was 12, settling in Glendale. He picked up golf from his father at that age, and won his first tournament two years later. One sportswriter later described the 5'4", 130-pound Hardison as “the small but sharp shotmaker from Glendale.” “I was a very good golfer and I won a lot of tournaments,” he says. “We’ve got trophies all over the place that my wife saved.”
At Broadmoor Golf Club in 1978, he carded the low individual score on the winning team of the World Senior Golf Championship—a foursome captained by former President Gerald Ford. His home is shrine to the game, and the artifacts of a well-traveled life: “My wife and I spent a lot of time wandering around places, picking out paintings that we liked, and we decorated the house with a lot of them.”
At one point he had perhaps the world’s premier collection of hickory-shaft woods and irons—“better than the USGA or the Royal & Ancient at St Andrews,” he says. Over the years, he has sold more than half of his 4,000-club collection, much of which he and his brother, Dick Hardison ’48, acquired in their travels. (Fun fact: At one point, Dick was in the Guinness Book of World Records for the most golf holes played in a single day. He played through one foursome five times, Frank says, while setting that record at a course on the Big Island of Hawai‘i.)
It was Dick who introduced Frank to Virginia “Duffer” McGary, whom he wed in 1945. The couple moved from La Cañada Flintridge to Emerald Bay in Laguna Beach in 1967, where they built a 9,000-square-foot home with a magnificent view of the coastline. On the Fourth of July, he says, you can see the fireworks “all the way from Dana Point to Palos Verdes.”
When Hardison wasn’t busy running his insurance companies, which he eventually sold to larger outfits, the two traveled the world together until Duffer’s passing in 2012. “She was such a nice woman,” he says. “She had a golden singing voice and became a pretty good golfer.”
Today, Hardison shares his home with his 16-year-old cat, Katie (short for Katharine Hepburn, Duffer’s favorite actress). While Frank and his wife never had children of their own, they put five godchildren through college, all of whom are like family to Hardison. He spent his 100th birthday at the Masters in Augusta, Ga., with godson Richard Boone and his wife, Susie, and hopes to cross Africa off his bucket list one day.
His secret to a long life? “Good genes.” Case in point: Grandfather Henry Cheves died in February 1951, four months shy of turning 100. Cheves was in good health but had gone deaf, and he died shortly after his car was hit by a train at a crossing without guard rails.
“I was his third-favorite grandchild,” says Hardison, who was struck by a car at age 97 while riding a golf cart. He suffered a broken bone in his neck but soon returned to the course. “He has 19 lives,” says Susie Boone. “People call him the Energizer Bunny.” Guilty as charged, Hardison admits: “I’ve gotten in a lot of mischief."