Created October 14, 2016
- This eternal flame burns forever
- in remembrance of Donald Joe Francis -
Donald Joe Francis
Born: February 18, 1940
Died: September 25, 2016
There once was a boy named Donald Joe from the dusty streets of Enid, Oklahoma. He was
born while his dad, Joe, was away fighting the Nazis in Germany and Switzerland and his
mom, Ruth, was working as a nurse. He was an only child but had plenty of cousins and
friends to keep him busy and mostly out of trouble. He spent many summers running wild
on a family farm in Marshall, Oklahoma doing those things boys do, like feeding hogs,
skinny dipping and learning how to catch, kill and pluck chickens.
One day, Don's dad took a new job and moved the family to Hot Springs, Arkansas where
they lived near Oaklawn Park. Living so close to all of that dirt, sweat, manure, and
excitement instilled in Don a lifelong love of horse racing (some would say that the
manure filled him more than the rest). He and his friends would often sneak into the
track via the culvert to watch the horses from infield until they got caught and thrown
out. Then they would do it all over again. He also began a lifelong love of baseball as he
first donned a glove, often playing catch with his dad.
As junior high appeared on his horizon, the family up and moved again, this time to
St. Louis, Missouri. Joe flourished in his career with Cook Paint and Ruth ran a tight ship
at home while Don focused on typical boy stuff like sports and shenanigans. Being good
Catholics, he was sent to nearby Bishop DuBourg High School, where he was known to be
a pretty good athlete, a decent charmer and a gregarious goof. In spite of his smaller
stature, he was a main component of his city champion football team (from his
perspective, at least) and his school wrestling and baseball teams (as a short stop, of
course). Don was friends with Stan Musial's son, Dickie, and liked to tell stories about
the times when Stan The Man and a few fellow Cardinals would show up to their sandlot
games to play with and coach up the kids.
A handsome guy, Don did okay with the ladies. His parents insisted that he get a job to
have his own money and to learn some responsibility, because, you know, money doesn't
grow on trees. So Don worked as a soda jerk and a car hop, among other things, putting
enough away to take out those girls who fancied him. Once, on a double date, he even
drove his date's dad's car because there was no way in God's green earth that his dad
was going to let him drive his company car on a date!
Upon graduating from high school, Don answered a call to the priesthood and entered the
seminary. Adjusting to this new lifestyle was a challenge for such a self-confessed ladies
man, but he bore down and made it work. After a year, though, he decided that he would
rather be a daddy than a father and moved on to the University of Missouri, fully
embracing the life of a college student away from his parents (and the rigid structure of
the Jesuits). Don competed with the ROTC drill team and excelled at the lighter side of
academia (much to his parent's chagrin). In later years he would say that the Mizzou
dean asked him politely to not return, but if pressed he would concede that his dad had
told him that, in no uncertain terms, he needed to reassess his priorities.
So, Don joined the Army (or his dad signed him upů nobody knows for sure). After
enduring bootcamp at Ft Leonardwood, Don spent his active duty stateside as office
administration (much to his chagrin). As the saying went, "join the army and see the
world", all he saw was Oklahoma and Indiana!
Following an honorable discharge (we were just as surprised) he joined his parents in
Little Rock, Arkansas where his dad had been transferred a few years earlier. Don found
work in a local department store and enrolled in Little Rock University to study business,
this time for real. As the Christmas season began, he started flirting with a tall brunette
who was working in the toy department and his schtick actually worked. Two weeks later
they were secretly engaged.
Don and Bettye (nee Harrison) were married for over 51 years and his world always
revolved around his "Bettye Lou." They honeymooned in Hot Springs, even playing a round
of golf on the infield course at Oaklawn. Being an only child, Don loved her large and
boisterous family, and they loved him. He became a big brother to the Harrison
brothers, Fletcher and Frank, eleven and twelve years Bettye's junior. He joined her on
trips to the country to see family, occasionally helping her grandfather on his rounds as a
country vet, vaccinating, birthing and neutering livestock (the latter skill came in handy
when threatening his children).
As time wore on, their adventures together took them from the hills of the lower Ozarks
to exotic locales such as Jackson, West Monroe, Canada, Great Britain, and Europe, often
with the family packed into a fifteen-foot Shasta pull-along. He even tried to use her
uncle as a connection to re-enlist in the military as Vietnam kicked into full gear, this
time as a pilot. That didn't work out, and along the way they brought forth unto this
earth three sons: Joe, Mark and Tony. Don was an excited and proud father and spent
much of his time instilling a love of sports and the outdoors with his boys, as his father
did him. He threw pitches, wrestled, shouted, hook-shotted, dribbled, drew, scouted,
camped, tacked, putted, and blocked with reckless abandon. He was their biggest
supporter and encouraged and coached and mentored and disciplined and helped with
homework - all while working on the road as a salesman with Southwestern Bell Yellow
Pages. And he always treated his sons' friends as if they were his own (sometimes to
their chagrinů remember the neutering story?).
Don enjoyed his work with the phone company, eventually retiring after 25 years. During
his tenure he had done everything from selling Yellow Page ads (his main gig) to acting as
a telephone operator and actually had an office in St. Louis for two years without his
kids knowing. If prompted (or not) he could regale with stories of sales on the road, pool-
sharking, bar-fights, playing golf (another of his loves) with Ray Floyd, and riding in hot
air balloons. From all accounts he was a fair and generous manager/supervisor counting
many coworkers as dear friends. During the summers when they were out of school, he
would often take his boys with him on the road for some one-on-one time (lucky kids).
Because he just couldn't sit idly by after retirement, he went on to work as a bug
inspector, asbestos abatement engineer, wager attendant (that's right, at the horse
races), and construction sales, eventually retiring for good, this time from the State of
Arkansas Department of Human Services working with the Amigo program which helped
teach students read and speak English.
Don remained a faithful Catholic, adding his family to the parish rolls of Saint Theresa
and remaining there for over forty years. As the 80's dawned he answered another call
and joined the diocese's first diaconate class. After being ordained he served his parish
as a deacon, assisting at masses, leading funerals, baptisms, and weddings, helping with
youth ministry, delivering the Eucharist, and serving in the Men's Club and Knights of
Columbus. He also served as a chaplain with the North Little Rock Police Department,
where his ride-alongs were well enjoyed and he was told to stay in the car but never did.
Don loved serving his church family however he could and even went as far as Oaxaca,
Mexico to learn Spanish to better minister to his extended family. That also paid off in a
second career as a corporate recruiter for the Arkansas ESL programs, allowing him to
better engage the immigrant students of central Arkansas.
One day Don's boys had all grown up and started their own families, so he redirected his
fatherly love towards the grandkids to which he and Bettye were bestowed. He proudly
wore his new mantle of "Poppy" as it were a crown (as did newly named "Bobo") and
reveled in watching his grandkids do anything, from monkey bars and tea parties to
sports of all kinds. He even came to love soccer, since those grandkids that played sports
ended up on a pitch, foregoing the diamond of his beloved Cardinals. He readily cheered
at plays and performances and generously doted as his father, "Pa Pa," had before him.
The apple didn't fall far from the tree.
Fully submitting to retirement, Pops re-connected with his inner ham, performing in local
theater and joining a barbershop chorus (just as his Bettye Lou did). He entertained
audiences with roles ranging from The Ghost of Christmas Past to the voice of a stove in
a diner and even acted as the judge in a small budget movie. Singing barbershop was a
source of pride, especially when performing the national anthem at baseball and
basketball games or delivering singing valentines. He was a natural entertainer and
generous cast member, adding many of his fellow entertainers and audience members to
his extended family.
Somehow, he talked his wife into seeing the country from the front seat of an RV and
Poppy and Bobo traveled with zeal, leaving new friends in their wake wherever he went.
They crossed many items off their bucket list such as a World Series game featuring
the St. Louis Cardinals, Yellowstone, Mt. Rushmore, the Mediterranean, the Florida Keys
and high school graduations for six of nine grandkids.
He loved watching golf, baseball, and horse racing as well as reading a good spy thriller,
military chronicle or western. He enjoyed taking his Bettye Lou out for a nice meal
(really, any time he ate it was a nice meal) and to the movies and plays and ball games. Family
get-togethers were a treat.
Finally, Don decided that it was time to move on. On the first Sunday of Fall, he enjoyed
breakfast at home with his wife and a leisurely drive to town to attend mass at his
church. He visited with friends before and after the service and then said goodbye to us
all on his ride home. That heart which was so generous and kind to others finally burst
with love and a life well lived.
Donald Joseph Francis/Donald Joe/Don/Pops/Poppy will be missed greatly by so many,
but he will be remembered fondly by so many more. He is celebrated by his wife Bettye,
his sons and their wives, Joe and Kellie, Mark and Pat, Tony and Angela; by his
grandchildren Ian, Taylor, Elizabeth, Jake, Rader, Scarlette, Ellie, Houston, and Lauren;
by his brother-in-law and his wife, Fletcher and Mirasol Harrison; his sister-in-law Connie
Sims; by his nieces and nephew Katie Harrison, Camille Harrison, and Ryan Harrison; and
Visitation will be held Sunday, October 2, 2016 at Griffin Leggett Healey & Roth Funeral
Home from 5:00-8:00pm. Mass of Christian Burial will be held Monday, October 3, 2016
at St. Theresa's Catholic Church at 10:00am. Burial will immediately follow at Pinecrest
Memorial Park. There will be a luncheon directly following burial at the St. Theresa
Parish Hall. All are invited. In lieu of flowers, please donate to: The Deacon Don
Scholarship Fund, St. Theresa Catholic School, 6311 Baseline Rd., Little Rock, AR 72209.
Sign Donald's Guest Book
Though He's gone, He is not forgotten.
Though absent, He remains in spirit.
Though once a worker, He now rest.
by The Arkansas Good Sams
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