We’ve lost a good friend with the passing of Kenny Francis.
Francis, affectionately called “Chief” by many area residents, passed away Sept. 14 after serving more than 40 years in public safety; the last two decades as Gardner police chief.
Chief was one of the first people to welcome me to Gardner 20 years ago. At that time the newspaper office was directly across the street from the police department on Elm Street.
Gardner was a smaller, quieter place then and some of us “downtowners” instituted the Gardner Wave; everyone would stick their head out the door at 4 p.m. and wave, the joke being the streets would be rolled up at 5 p.m.
Kenny’s office was by the front window of the old police department; and he’d often motion you in when you walked past; offering advice, a sly joke or discussing the news of the day. There was a method to the coffee talks; it always kept him on top of the town’s pulse. Not too much went on that he didn’t know about. He did a lot of coffee drinking and listening, and his network stretched way beyond Gardner’s boundaries.
He was a common sense cop.
Over coffee one day, Chief explained “judicious use of power” to me and compared the fire and brimstone fervor possessed by new journalists to new officers who are eager to make their mark and change the world.
Chief told me that with power and authority comes the responsibility to use it wisely and compassionately; that’s a lesson we all should heed, and I thank him for it.
Because of our professions, we weren’t always on the same side of an issue.
Over the years Kenny would press the city council for new police cars, and I would editorialize that the cars weren’t needed; that the money should be used elsewhere. Most often, when the editorial hit the street, my phone would ring, and Kenny would tell me precisely what he thought of my editorial: his voice was always calm and to the point.
The only time Chief called with an angry, trembling voice was when the newspaper made a typo in a help wanted ad for the (then) Gardner Department of Public Safety.
We left the “L” out of Public.
I suspect Chief got ribbed by the coffee crowd wanting to know the job description for a “pubic” safety officer, and by the time Chief called me, the joke had worn thin. Years later, we were able to laugh about it.
But even in disagreements, he never personalized the issue or held grudges; issues were issues, and not individual personalities. He was a true professional.
And Chief liked people.
I don’t recall any complaints that he was condescending, or bullying; he handled each person individually and respectfully. He was equally kind to the people in high positions as well as those in “low places,” as Garth Brooks would say. He stood for what he thought was right, and I know he lost a few friendships because of it. We discussed that once; how even though it pained him at times, he had to do his job in the way he believed was honorable.
For two decades I’ve picked up the phone and called Chief with questions or problems, knowing I’d always get a thoughtful and knowledgeable reply.
I’ve lost a good friend in the passing of Chief Kenny Francis. We all have.
I just hope there’s a coffee shop in Heaven, because if so, Chief won’t be hard to find.