Sy­bil Francis hailed as so­cial work stal­wart

Jamaica Gleaner - - NEWS - Christo­pher Serju/Gleaner Writer christo­pher.serju@glean­

LATE AGED-CARE and so­cial work ad­vo­cate Sy­bil Francis has been de­scribed as a gen­tle pow­er­house and a source of in­spi­ra­tion to hun­dreds of peo­ple whose lives she touched.

Francis, a for­mer direc­tor of the So­cial Wel­fare Train­ing Cen­tre and chair­man of the Na­tional Coun­cil for Se­nior Cit­i­zens (NCSC), died on May 30 aged 106. She died at home.

Among those re­mem­ber­ing the diminu­tive woman who stood five feet tall and was still revving her Volk­swa­gen across cam­pus well into her 80s is Pro­fes­sor Denise Eldemire-Shearer, who re­called her “will­ing­ness to share ideas and to guide peo­ple in a soft and gen­tle way”.

Eldemire-Shearer, direc­tor of the Mona Age­ing and Well­ness Cen­tre at The Univer­sity of the West Indies, said that Francis took her un­der her wing when she joined the NCSC in 1982.

“I also re­mem­ber her and that blink­ing lit­tle VW at univer­sity, when you used to hear this lit­tle car rac­ing down with her near to 80 and pulling down gears, as she drove this ve­hi­cle all over the place. When her hus­band died, there was an au­to­matic car at the house and she would not drive it, pre­fer­ring her stick shift,” said Eldemire-Shearer.

Francis never had chil­dren, but was the main­stay of her fam­ily that com­prised three sis­ters who, when their hus­bands all died within a year of each other, lived to­gether in a real-life reprise of Amer­i­can sit­com Golden Girls.

She is sur­vived by one sis­ter.


In a Gleaner in­ter­view pub­lished on Au­gust 5, 2002, the then 88-year-old re­tired so­cial worker shared some of her many ad­ven­tures across Ja­maica, in­clud­ing per­sonal sacrifices and chal­lenges faced.

She picked up the story in the 1960s when with Ja­maica hav­ing achieved po­lit­i­cal In­de­pen­dence ex­pec­ta­tions were very high, with peo­ple power fu­elling some lofty as­pi­ra­tions.

“In the 1930s, ’40s and ’50s, so­cial work was largely spear­headed by the Ja­maica Wel­fare Lim­ited, a non-govern­men­tal or­gan­i­sa­tion that later be­came the Ja­maica So­cial Wel­fare Com­mis­sion, a gov­ern­ment-run agency,” said Francis.

The vet­eran so­cial worker en­joyed en­gag­ing with small farm­ers who lived on plots of land the gov­ern­ment had sold them in the coun­try­side and was given the re­spon­si­bil­ity to cre­ate com­mu­ni­ties out of these set­tle­ments. This meant a lot of trav­el­ling to di­verse ru­ral com­mu­ni­ties such as Tread­ways and Pen­nants in Claren­don, as well as Bound­brook, Port­land.

Eldemire-Shearer re­called yesterday that her friend and men­tor stopped work­ing “prob­a­bly seven or eight years ago”, hav­ing laboured for the bet­ter part of a cen­tury.

“May we con­tinue to per­pet­u­ate the work she started [and] cel­e­brate her life and in­cred­i­ble con­tri­bu­tion to so­cial work and age care world­wide,” Eldemire-Shearer said.


Sy­bil Francis (left), for­mer direc­tor of the So­cial Wel­fare Train­ing Cen­tre and chair­man of the Na­tional Coun­cil for Se­nior Cit­i­zens, shares a light mo­ment with Clin­ton Davis, pres­i­dent of the Ja­maica Gov­ern­ment Pen­sion­ers’ As­so­ci­a­tion, at the dis­clo­sure of the Na­tional Con­sul­ta­tion on Sur­vey Re­sults of Older Per­sons in Selected Com­mu­ni­ties held at the Ja­maica Con­fer­ence Cen­tre in Kingston in an un­dated Gleaner photo.

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