Mem­o­ries to trea­sure from nat­u­ral writer Jo

Harefield Gazette - - OPINION -

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!

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