Blanche Macdonald Francis, a civic activist and community leader in New Orleans for more than five decades and wife of retired Xavier University President Norman Francis, died Monday. She was 89.
Xavier posted a tribute on its website, calling Francis the “first lady” of the university and “a generous, selfless supporter of Dr. Francis, Xavier and the larger New Orleans community.”
Francis was also sometimes known as Xavier’s “first fan” for her enthusiastic backing of the school’s sports teams.
She had been ill for some time, and her husband cited her failing health as one reason he decided to retire in 2014 as America’s longest-tenured university president.
A New Orleans native, Francis graduated from Xavier Prep High School and Xavier University, where she later taught modern dance. She did post-graduate work at Indiana University.
She and Norman Francis were married in 1955. They were the parents of six children and grandparents of 11.
“My wife didn’t take any foolishness,” Francis said, recalling the days of child-rearing in a recent profile published by Diverse Issues in Higher Education. “The talking about ‘Wait till your father gets here’ — by then, things were straightened.”
Both husband and wife were involved in numerous civic and charitable causes related to Xavier and higher education and to a wide range of other issues.
Among the groups Blanche Francis served over the years were Women of the Storm, The Links, the YMCA, WYES-TV, Second Harvest Food Bank, Hope Haven and Covenant House.
In a statement, Mayor Mitch Landrieu hailed her commitment to education and civic engagement.
“As a champion of education and the first lady of Xavier, Blanche Francis understood the importance of higher education, particularly in the advancement of the African-American community,” the mayor said. “That is why she devoted her life to education and civic engagement.
“Even with six children of her own, Mrs. Blanche was seen as a caregiver to many in New Orleans and across the country. As a kid, Mrs. Blanche took all of us under her wings. We will miss her dearly. I am confident that her love, giving heart and legacy will continue through those who knew her best.”
Funeral arrangements are pending.