Memories to treasure from natural writer Jo
IWAS very sorry to hear about the death of former Gazette reporter Jo Francis. My first meeting with Jo was when we were both taken on as reporters 25 years ago at a time when the then editor Richard Parsons was looking for people from the community to join the staff and learn the job – on the job.
Jo had worked in a bank and I was a teacher. It was an idea which probably had mixed reactions from established journos, never mind the young trainees who were indentured to the paper and expected to pass final exams.
News editor Anthony Longden (who later edited the paper himself) agreed to take on two mature, but very raw, recruits. He supervised us, gave us lessons in law and tried to drum newspaper style into our sometimes unresponsive heads.
Previously Jo had written a Village Voice column in the Buckinghamshire Advertiser and I had a Schools’ Page in the Gazette, so we had no problem making contacts and interviewing people.
But we discovered that there was so much more to learn, and when we did mess up we were not spared the rod – thankfully not literally.
The strict training ground of a newsroom meant we learned to write everything – with varying degrees of success – from wedding reports to obits, Memory Lane pieces and theatre reviews. We contacted emergency services for stories, attended inquests and covered council meetings and residents’ gatherings. Eventually we found ourselves writing large features and big news stories.
Jo was a natural feature writer who came into her own when she was given responsibility for the brand new edition of the Gazette in Harefield.
Her regular column (three times the size of this) was extremely popular and ensured a healthy circulation for the paper, but it was her lively personality, big smile and 2CV car that made her a very popular figure in the village, as well as in the wider Hillingdon borough.
Many of you, like me, will find it hard to grasp that such a live wire is no longer with us. I am particularly sorry that we didn’t meet up in later years, though we kept in touch and always intended to.
Her contacts, like her family (to whom I send sincere condolences), will have many memories to treasure including – my favourite – a TV appearance with puppets Rosie and Jim!