A black diamond life: 'Unsung Hero' Frank Lundblad of Brunswick

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BRUNSWICK — Walk into Frank Lundblad’s condominium and you’ll be greeted by a tall man with clear eyes, a warm smile and a firm handshake.

Scan the walls and you’ll see evocative paintings of the Norwegian fjords and the Maine coastline, each the product of this man’s sharp vision and steady hands.

Spend time talking with 86-year-old Lundblad and you’ll be treated to a personal saga that began in Norway and extended from Depression-era New Hampshire to atomic bomb tests in the Marshall Islands; from a shabby apartment in Massachusetts to corporate executive suites around the world; from an operating table in Massachusetts to ski slopes around New England.

Call it a black diamond life.

Lundblad’s family moved to New Hampshire from Norway in 1927 when he was just 2, lured by his father’s friends, who’d raved about the opportunities to get rich in America. But the Depression hit, leaving the family destitute. To help out, Lundblad worked various menial jobs: peddling newspapers, hawking candy and cigars at a carnival, working in a sawmill, even going door-to-door selling chances using a punch board.

Lundblad said he felt inferior in school, as all reading material in his house was Norwegian. He’d spend hours reading back issues of newspapers and magazines to improve his English. He never felt inferior on the ski slopes, however, and once won the New Hampshire state championship.

One of Lundblad’s friends told him that he was too dumb to take the test to become a U.S. Navy officer. Lundblad was one of only two men out of 250 to pass both the mental and physical parts of the exam, a performance that earned him some free schooling at Dartmouth College and the Harvard Business School before going to sea.

“I guess I wasn’t that dumb,” he said, laughing.

In July, 1946, Lundblad was on the supply ship for the atomic bomb tests at the Bikini Atoll in the Marshall Islands, which were used to investigate the effects of nuclear weapons on naval ships.

“There was a bright flash of light at the horizon coming from the atoll, followed by the ocean undulating before erupting into a geyser, which went 3 1/2 miles into the air,” he said. “When it came down it looked like a birthday cake. We were anchored just eight miles from the blast.”

Lundblad is now convinced that he and his fellow crew members were being used as human guinea pigs. Years later, he learned that veterans of the bomb tests were indeed getting sick from earlier radiation.

Lundblad developed pancreatic cancer in 1980. He was told that even after surviving a pancreatic operation (a 50/50 chance), there was only a one in 100 chance of surviving the disease.

Frank beat the odds. He remains free of the disease 30 years later, staying physically active, mentally challenged and spiritually aware.

He also reduces stress by painting. “When Deborah and I were newly married, we lived in this rundown apartment in Cambridge. To spruce it up, I began copying the masters like Rembrandt,” he said.

He has sold several paintings over the years, but mainly gives them away.

Lundblad said he has felt too numb to paint since Deborah died in August 2009, but he’s just now returning to it. “She was a wonderful woman, one of a kind,” he said of his wife of nearly 60 years.

Blessed with a good mind and marketing savvy, Lundblad compiled a successful 40-year business career as a consultant resolving marketing and management problems for companies worldwide.

Skiing has remained a constant. At age 45, he joined the ski patrol, an avocation he continued well into his 70s. “I dealt with everything – broken arms, broken legs, heart attacks,” he said. He received a lifelong pass from Sunday River for his long service, and he skis now for fun.

When Lundblad survived pancreatic cancer, he said, he developed real empathy for people facing life-threatening illnesses. Ever the doer, he helped start the first hospice in Brunswick in the 1980s.

Lundblad holds clear views on growing old gracefully. “Keep on learning. Read, read, read,” he said. “And do good for others. It makes your endorphins happy.”

Sidebar Elements

Frank Lundblad, a World War II veteran, pancreatic cancer survivor, sailor, hospice founder, painter and successful businessman, in his Brunswick living room.

Unsung Heroes

This is the first in a twice-monthly series of profiles of people who quietly contribute to the quality of life in greater Portland. The writer, David Treadwell, lives in Brunswick and graduated from Bowdoin College and the Harvard Business School. His work experience includes one year in advertising in New York City; seven years in college admissions (Bowdoin and Ohio Wesleyan University), and 36 years writing admissions and fundraising materials for colleges and schools throughout the U.S. He has been published in several college and school alumni magazines as well as Parade, Seventeen and Yankee. Treadwell is the author of two books: “The History of Mere Point, Maine” and “Full Speed Ahead with a Twinkle in Her Eye: The Life and Legacy of Kate Ireland.” His passions include running, reading and theater.