The sudden passing of longtime Ocean City Marlin Club President Franky Pettolina this week shook the resort’s fishing community with his legions of friends both grieving his passage and celebrating his life at the same time.
Pettolina, the affable sportfishing captain and marine surveyor, who stood at the helm of the Ocean City Marlin Club for many years, was a shining star that winked out far too early. News of his unexpected passing spread like a sudden squall disrupting a tranquil sea through the local fishing community.
In the days following his death, cherished memories, favorite pictures and endless yarns about great adventures on the water and the inevitable “one that got away” flooded social media. Symbolically, Franky was the “one that got away” far too early and the entire community mourns his passage and celebrates his amazing life.
Over the last 21 years, I’ve written countless pieces about tragedies and untimely deaths, and it’s embarrassing to say after a while one often becomes desensitized, or detached even, from the subject matter. In this tragic case, I am very much attached.
I have known Franky professionally and socially for decades, and while time often passes without seeing old friends and familiar faces, whenever we crossed paths it was as if we were right back where we left off. It’s a true sign of friendship.
Professionally, Franky was an invaluable resource for all things fishing and boating-related and I often relied on him and his vast expertise to explain technical issues, or fill me in on what was really going on behind the scenes, often off the record. As Marlin Club president, a job he handled with aplomb, he was often the de facto face of the local fishing community.
On a personal level, over the years we spent countless hours telling and retelling fishing stories or watching a ballgame over a beer. He went to Ursinus College in Pennsylvania where he met his wife Jen, and he remained a big man on campus years after he graduated, but his true football love was the Florida Gators.
He was truly one of a kind and he lit up any room he walked into with his quick wit, intelligence, amazing stories and endless tales of chasing billfish and tuna in the canyons off Ocean City, and in far-reaching places like Mexico and Costa Rica and all over the Caribbean.
Franky was a little sprout following around his dad Captain Frank and mom Maddie and the other fishermen and mates growing up around the marinas in the resort. His fishing prowess is legendary, and he later became the captain and fisherman generations of young sprouts in the fishing community grew up following around.
In a recent article he wrote for our media partner Fish In OC, Franky recalled growing up fishing with his dad and how he developed a love of the sea.
“You see, I’m am one of the most fortunate guys in the world,” he wrote. “Not only do I get to go fishing as part of my job, but I get to go with my best fishing buddy most of the time. Dad and I have been fishing together since I was first able to hold a rod, and by the time I was a teenager, that turned into a summer job. As I got older, that summertime job eventually turned into a career of sportfishing and marine surveying. Chasing fish and crawling around boats, all the time under Dad’s watchful eye. Yep, a very fortunate guy, making memories while doing something we both love. A ton of memories.”
Franky, those of us who knew you so well are the fortunate ones and the ton of memories you leave behind will not dim.
An impromptu sign on the front of the Ocean City Marlin Club this week sums up the emotions welling up in the community.
“Franky, You’re Forever in Our Hearts,” it reads.
Similar emotions spilled out all over social media all week too lengthy to completely cover in this space.
“To one of the best people I’ve ever met in my life and someone who truly changed the course of my life, thank you. Hope there’s Fireball and white marlins on the chain up there,” one post reads.
“I had a particular friend that could make me smile, laugh and enjoy life for no apparent reason other than his joyous way of life. His laugher was infectious, and he always wanted to please everyone around him,” reads another.
“Words cannot express the gratitude we have simply by knowing him. If more people could be like him, the world would be a better place. Franky will forever be one that lives on in so many hearts and never be forgotten,” reads yet another.
“I’m not exaggerating even a little when I say Franky Pettolina was the most loved person I know. He was like the sea, everywhere and around forever. My heart is broken, but everyone whoever spent any time with Franky is truly better off for having known him,” reads one more.
Franky was captain of the sportfishing boat Last Call, an irony that cannot be escaped this week on so many different levels, but his spirit lives on.