Frank Viola, the Bath Beach pioneer of pigeon racing, passed away last month at age 87 — and his death has left a void in the sport.
Viola (pictured) was the last of a generation of men who carried the pigeon-racing torch. “It was his whole life,” said his wife, Kathleen Viola.
The couple’s Bay 49th Street roof is still home to a few hundred of his prized birds. But Kathleen said they will not race again.
And the Frank Viola Invitational — the only pigeon competition that guaranteed prize money (Viola himself put up the $30,000 prize, his wife said) — will no longer be run. Viola won the Ohio-to-New York race twice.
“He was the only philanthropist in the pigeon world,” Kathleen said. “All the others were in it to make a profit.”
Now, the 3,500 members of the 126-year-old International Federation of American Pigeon Fanciers are mourning.
“The sport will never recover,” said Patrick Broderick. “You can say an era has ended.”
On Jan. 7, 1920, Frank Viola was born — in Brooklyn and into pigeon racing, thanks to his father, a plasterer from Calabria, Italy, who raced pigeons.
During World War II, Viola enlisted in the Army, and donated pigeons to carry messages across enemy lines. He also stormed Normandy beach on D-Day.
©2007 Community Newspaper Group
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