Mixed emotions, from laughter to tears, filled the Xavier University Convocation Center Oct. 15, 2015, for a woman who left a legacy and will never be forgotten by her friends, Xavier students, and loved ones.
Blanche Macdonald Francis was born on Oct. 31, 1926, and passed away Oct. 12, 2015. The university and the City of New Orleans came together to lay Xavier’s long-time “first lady” to rest at her funeral service at the St. Louis Cathedral on Friday, Oct. 16.
One day earlier, the university community filed in one-by-one to say their goodbyes and pay respects at Francis’s memorial visitation in the Convocation Center.
“I can’t remember a day without her,” said Jasmine Francis, who is a graduating senior at Xavier. She said the years both her grandparents dedicated to Xavier can be seen in the university’s strength, reputation, and success.
“My grandmother and I share the same birthday. We both would celebrate and it is unbearable to think that this year she won’t be here,” Jasmine Francis said. When Jasmine would visit her grandmother, the first words she would hear were, “You better give your grandma a kiss and a hug.”
“The house would smell of all kinds of baked goods and food, and my grandma would go through her closet and show me all her gowns that she was most proud of,” Jasmine Francis said.
Blanche Francis was an open person but blunt at times, said Michael Francis, her son, as he greeted those who came to pay their respects. As their mother, she wanted the best for him, and his brothers and sisters, Michael said.
“She always advocated examples of service and leadership,” Michael said. One of the moments where her leadership really showed was when she worked to integrate Carrollton Park in 1968, where black children were not allowed to play.
Other memorial visitors shared their personal experiences with Blanche Francis. The Rev. Dianne Piper Wooden of First Street Peck Wesley United Methodist Church in Central City said she grew up with Blanche Francis because their mothers attended Xavier University Preparatory School together. Wooden shared that she was at Blanche Francis’ house in 1963 as they both saw the news of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination. “She had this personality that made you smile and made sure everything will be fine,” Wooden added.
Many of the city’s current and former elected officials also attended the memorial at the Convocation Center. “She was a beautiful woman. Her spirit was always positive,” said Diana E. Bajoie, former state senator and a current city council member.
Mayor Mitch Landrieu also attended the memorial given the close ties between the Francis and Landrieu families.
Bajoie pointed out that Francis’s impact in the city was significant. One project that Francis was an advocate for was the New Orleans Adolescent Hospital.
“She was the former president of the board and fought to save the hospital from closure in 2009 because of economic reasons. The hospital later reopened in 2013 because of her dedication,” Bajoie said.
Francis’ 60-year marriage to Dr. Norman C. Francis, now president-emeritus of Xavier, was widely admired throughout the city
“She was the wind beneath his wings,” Bajoie said. “Every man needs someone that will have his back and support him, and she was Xavier’s first lady for 47 years.”
“This is a great loss to Xavier but her memory will live on,” Bajoie added.