After Dr. Norman C. Francis announced his retirement in September, media and academic institutions across the nation have covered and commended the man who is recorded as the longest serving university president in U.S. history.
When Francis ends his 47-year tenure on June 30, 2015, he will leave a legacy built on consistent leadership, humility, and loyalty to Xavier University of Louisiana, according to Sister Monica Loughlin, assistant to the president for Catholic identity and mission integration. Loughlin said the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament named Francis the first lay president in 1968 because they saw a leader who would be dedicated to the mission St. Katharine Drexel established for Xavier: to empower underserved African American and Native American children through education.
In his words
The Xavier student media interviewed Francis on April 6, 2015, for a special tribute in The Xavier Herald and on xulaherald.com. The two hour interview highlighted the 60 years he has spent at Xavier, first as a student, then a
faculty member and ending as president. Francis said he enrolled
at Xavier in 1948 and became class president each year with the help of freshman roommate Leo Sam, who was also his campaign manager. Over six decades later, Sam and Francis are still close.
“We dreamed big in those days, but certainly could not imagine Norman would steer his alma mater to national prominence for almost 50 years,”
Sam told The Herald.
After graduating from Xavier in 1952 with a math degree, Francis became the first African American to graduate from Loyola’s School of Law in 1955
and soon after was drafted into the military.
“I got my degree in law on a Saturday, I got married on a Monday, and I was probably drafted into the U.S. Army two weeks later,” Francis said.
Serving as a private in the army gave Francis the fundamental leadership skills that he needed for his future positions in life.
“I was taught humility by doing what privates did. I washed pots and pans, marched on the borders of Germany with a rifle,” Francis said.
Right time, place
Francis returned to Xavier in 1957 as Dean of Men, and a faculty member. Francis said he knew his duty was to protect the legacy of Xavier. This duty became a vision and priority when he became the first lay
president in 1968. Under Francis’ leadership Xavier was transformed into the campus it is today. When Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans on Aug. 29, 2005, Xavier was heavily damaged, Francis said. He evacuated with his family and lived in Grand Coteau, La. There, he set up his office and started planning to save Xavier. Francis had staff members operating in different cities and states, but he was determined to have Xavier reopen five months after Katrina. Overcoming the doubts from staff, faculty, local and even national leaders, Xavier was back in session on Jan. 17, 2006,
Years later, Xavier has gained a reputation for strong academics, a well-rounded liberal arts education, and is known for producing physicians
and pharmacists. When asked why he is retiring, Francis said he wishes
to spend more time with his wife of 60 years, Blanche.
“I made a commitment to Xavier to give a few years back. I didn’t know it was going to be this long. But I took a vow with a lady 60 years ago, ‘til death do us part. She is not well and I thought it was time for me to go back home and
take care of her. A vow always trumps a commitment. I owed her that so that’s why I’m leaving really.
“I feel good about it. I feel at
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