Mrs. Francis, a community-spirited volunteer who was noted for her unfailing graciousness and non-stop desire to help others, died Monday (Oct. 12) at her home in Gentilly of respiratory arrest, a complication of dementia. She was 89.
Mrs. Francis, the wife of the long-time Xavier President who retired just this past summer, was a lifelong New Orleanian. Born Blanche Macdonald, she graduated from Xavier Preparatory School and received a degree in physical education at Xavier in 1948. She did post-graduate work at Indiana University and taught at both Xavier and at Arkansas A&M (now the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff).
In 1955, she married Dr. Francis, who became Xavier’s president in 1968. She gave birth to six children.
Often referred to as Xavier’s “First Lady”, Mrs. Francis did more than simply show up at campus events. She offered advice, assistance, and friendship to countless students, staff, faculty, and alumni for nearly four decades. She was a regular at campus athletic events.
Mrs. Francis was a member of Women of the Storm delegation, a group that flew to Washington three times after Hurricane Katrina, not only to secure money for money to restore the Gulf Coast after the storm and the BP oil spill but also to persuade representatives and senators to visit the area to see the devastation first-hand.
In addition to Women of the Storm, Mrs. Francis was active in civic groups such as The Links, a service organization for African-American women, and a host of church-related activities. For about 20 years, Mrs. Francis helped organize the local competition of the Scripps National Spelling Bee, which The Links sponsored with The Times-Picayune newspaper.
Mrs. Francis sat on the boards of the YMCA, Second Harvest Food Bank, Hope Haven and Covenant House. She was a former president of the New Orleans Adolescent Hospital board, a former secretary of the Louisiana State Museum board and a former member of the boards of WYES television, Xavier Prep, Notre Dame Seminary and St. Joseph Seminary.
She received an honorary doctorate from Our Lady of Holy Cross College.
In addition to her husband, survivors include four sons, Dr. Michael, Timothy and David Francis of New Orleans, and Patrick Francis of Austin, Texas; two daughters, Kathleen Francis of New York and Christina Francis of Los Angeles; a sister, Clarita Reed of New Orleans; and 11 grandchildren.
A visitation was held Thursday, Oct. 15, from 4:00 to 7:00 p.m. in the Xavier Convocation Center, 7900 Stroelitz St. A funeral was be held on Friday, Oct. 16 at St. Louis Cathedral.
In lieu of flowers, please contribute to the Norman and Blanche Francis Scholarship at Xavier University, 1 Drexel Drive, New Orleans, La. 70125.