TRIBUTE TO FRANCIS – WEDNESDAY 23 MARCH 2011
Francis, or BK as many of you knew him, was born within the sound of Bow bells on the 10th of June 1934. His father was a jockey and his mother, was a nurse from Killarney in Ireland. Francis was an only child and grew up in Newbury and Tring and was educated at St Edmund’s School in Ware, which he will have told all of you at some time, was run on Jesuit lines! He grew up during the Second World War and learned to use a gun at an early age, which he used to shoot rabbits for food on the Chiltern Hills.
On leaving school, he decided to become a teacher and gained a place at Kesteven College near Grantham. His shooting skills were put to good use there and it always amused him that he was able to conduct clandestine poaching activities without being caught. He would regularly hide a brace of pheasants in a wardrobe but one day caused something of a stir, when blood was seen trickling under the door! He met Ruth at the College and they married in 1958, and produced 2 wonderful daughters. It was no accident that Francis chose a vocation in a caring profession. His whole life was characterised by service. Teaching didn’t pay well in those days and he started his working life with Bibby’s the corn merchant, becoming their youngest District Manager. It wasn’t long though before he was lured back into education and took his first job as a specialist teacher of the deaf at Needwood School at Rangemore in Staffordshire, where he worked from 1962 until 1985, rising to the post of Deputy Head teacher. He was well known in the school for wearing steel tipped shoes and the pupils, despite their hearing difficulties, could always hear him coming. He didn’t really want to catch them up to no good, so he told them it was his early warning system.
Because of his obsession with being well dressed, invariably in a suit or blazer and tie with highly polished shoes, it was easy to think of him as somewhat stiff and formal. In reality, he was a real softy. His entire life was spent helping others. He saw National Service in the Royal Signals and was on active duty in Suez. He went on to serve in the Territorial Army and reached the rank of Major, he was justifiably proud of being presented with the Territorial Decoration by Princess Anne.
The institutions of the military and the school suited Francis well and there was a hiatus in 1985 when a change in Government policy to mainstream teaching of the deaf resulted in the closure of Needwood, just at the point that Ruth had secured a post as Housemistress near Blackpool. After a period chasing up and down the country as an award winning sales manager, in 1990 Ruth and Francis bought Ashfields Residential Home. Once again, Francis had found a vocation which, this time, allowed him to focus on the needs of elderly and vulnerable people. Ruth took on the role of matron and they were a formidable team known for their high standards of personal care and for ensuring their residents were integrated as part of the community. Francis would regularly work through the night without sleep, if things needed his attention.
The contribution Francis made to the community, was little short of extraordinary. When they were at Needwood, Francis ran the local youth club 3 nights a week. He was a founder member of the LIONs in Salisbury. Ruth remembers how, in the harsh winter of 1971, Francis spent many hours delivering coal to homes which were without heating. Francis was a staunch supporter of the Royal British Legion, which kept him in touch with his military roots. He was President of the Heanor branch and was always very active leading up to and on Remembrance Day itself. He coordinated the distribution and sale of poppies and acted as Parade Marshal for the Heanor Remembrance Day parade. He also loved country pursuits and was a regular participant in hunting, shooting and fishing, as well as being a keen follower of racing. He and Ruth always supported the Derbyshire Show, where he ran the main ring for a number of years.
As many of you know, politics was a passion for Francis and he was very active locally, serving as a Conservative councillor for both Amber Valley Borough Council and Derbyshire County Council and as Honorary President of the Heanor Conservative Club. He was driven by an inner belief in the improvements he wanted to see in society and the knowledge that by taking responsibility and standing up for those members of society less fortunate than ourselves, you can make a real difference. And Francis did make a real difference he had the knack of being able to deliver on issues that mattered.
His frustrations were many and varied and ranged from his perception of Europe and its interference in the running of the UK, taxation, employment law, health and safety legislation, the fact that boxing had moved onto Sky TV and, of course, anything technical, for which he relied completely on Ruth. He failed his video recorder programming test at least a dozen times! Technical things often got the better of him: although he was latterly an advanced motorist, he did manage to drive his ride on lawnmower up a tree - in fact he frequently got it stuck and was often seen with the lawnmower on its side waiting for Ruth to push him free. It happened so frequently because of the contours in the garden that they devised an ingenious pulley system, which got him back on the job – you could call Ruth the 5th emergency service! He once lost control of another lawnmower, which toppled over and the brake lever went through his wellington boot and skewered him to the ground! He also had a knack of being involved in accidents at the most inconvenient of moments. He managed to break both of his ankles - the first time was just as he’d set the kitchen on fire with a chip pan, which hindered his attempts to seek help and the second was just before moving from Barton to Hoar Cross.
Francis often used to say that he did not think that many people would turn up to his funeral. Looking around the church today, I think he would be genuinely humbled by how many of you have taken the trouble to come and pay your respects to him. He was recently asked to take part in a BBC documentary about a wine investment fraud and in true Francis fashion, he said at the end of the film that his approach had been that even if the wine was to depreciate, at least he could always drink it!
Despite his ill health at the end, he remained focused on his family. Francis, I know you are with us today - thank you for enriching our lives in so many ways. You can be proud of all you have achieved and we will continue to strive to make you proud of us.
Ruth has asked me to read an extract from a letter she received yesterday from Councillor Alan Cox, the Mayor of Amber Valley Borough Council:
“He will always be remembered for, amongst other things, his wicked sense of humour. One example of which I will never forget. When B-K was elected in 2000, there were so many Conservative councillors that there was not room for them all to sit on one side of the Council chamber so B-K decided to sit on the other side with the Labour councillors. One evening he was being ribbed by them as to why he was sitting on their side of the chamber. He immediately stood up and, in his inimitable fashion, said ‘Mr Mayor, the reason I sit on this side of the chamber is that the view is better’. Needless to say, the Labour Group did not try to take the rise out of him again.”