Frank Bret remembers the Gestapo officer, unyielding and proud, as if it were yesterday. It was the late 1930s, and Czechoslovakia was occupied by Nazi Germany.
“We plan to be here for 1,000 years,” the officer told him. And he and his men refused to give Bret — under compulsory service in the Czech air force — an exit visa.
When Bret fled to Poland, and then to France, seeking to be of military service, the German occupation followed him. He then made his way across Europe, arduous travel that included sleeping under bridges, getting arrested, and stealing away aboard a ship bound for Great Britain. Eventually, he became a bomber pilot for the British Royal Air Force.
There are other adventures, too: Bret’s stay in India, during the struggles that led to the creation of Pakistan; meeting a “beautiful creature” at a swimming club in Riverside, Calif. (his wife of 68 years, Elizabeth); and the couple’s work in the Executive Service Corps, which sent experts like Bret on interesting and sometimes risky international development trips.
Bret held high positions in the hospitality industry, including serving as the president of Disneyland Hotel, and what he enjoyed most was developing employee talent. “I always felt I should do something important with my life,” he says. And when it came time to celebrate Frank’s 100th birthday in 2017, the Brets gave it some thought. Have a big party? Go on a cruise?
“No,” says Bret. “Those things are all fleeting.” Instead, the couple decided to create an endowed fund for eye research at UW Medicine. The Brets are particularly interested in macular degeneration, a condition that has left Frank Bret nearly blind.
“I wanted to do something that would mean something,” says Bret. “People coming behind me will benefit.”