Classmates Norman Francis, left, and Leo Sam, right, pictured in the
1950 Xavierite, remain lifelong friends.
Few people know Dr. Norman C. Francis better than Leo Sam. In 1948, they
were freshmen roommates at Xavier University. Both were from the Lafayette, La., area. Francis majored in math, Sam in biology. Each year as undergraduates, Francis ran for president of their class. Sam was his campaign manager and
helped design posters they mounted across campus. Francis was elected president all four years.
Later, Sam served on Xavier’s Board of Trustees from 2007-2013 and headed fundraising efforts for the construction of the St. Katharine Drexel Chapel. Although he now lives in Tallahassee, Fla., Sam remains an active alumnus.
Some 67 years later, their brotherly bond continues. On a recent April afternoon when The Xavier Herald interviewed Sam, Francis cancelled a meeting with
the mayor of New Orleans to take pictures and chat with his long-time pal.
“We dreamed big in those days, but not that big!” Sam said. “We certainly could not imagine Norman would steer his alma mater to national prominence for almost 50 years.”
Sam recollected his early impressions of Francis, his budding leadership and respect on campus. He described Francis’ deep Roman Catholic faith—he attended Mass at 5:30 every morning—which earned him the respect of the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament, who asked him to serve as Xavier’s first lay president in 1968.
“It was a new day on campus and new leadership at Xavier,” Sam said.
“He had great respect from members of the dormitory, classmates, and
the ladies on campus—he was very handsome then.”
Francis smiled while handing Sam pictures taken during their undergraduate years. “Only believe 50 percent of what Leo says,” Francis quipped, drawing laughter from both men. The pictures featured classmates Richard Gumbel—father to television personality Bryant Gumbel—and Ernest “Dutch” Morial, who went on to serve as the first black mayor of New Orleans. Francis confided how Sam’s support has sustained him through the years.
“I learned everything I had to know from Grandfather Leo,” Francis said.
As Xavier seeks a new university president, Sam would like to find someone with the same virtues of perseverance and dedication as Francis.
“I’m not saying to find someone to replace Norman Francis. It can’t be done,” Sam said. “However, someone can be found who will build on his legacy and guide the
university toward even greater goals.”
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