Fran­cis – the hum­ble strong­man

Daily Mirror (Sri Lanka) - - SPORTS - For­mer Sports Editor – Daily Mir­ror

An­ton Bene­dict Fran­cis was a man who epit­o­mized the true spirit of sport. He per­se­vered against all odds, never gave up, tack­led ob­sta­cles in his stride, en­joyed the mo­ments he had how­ever few and far be­tween they may have been, and al­ways stuck to the task at hand. His na­ture should have made him a per­fect fit for the sports desk of a news­pa­per though many ob­servers would have had dif­fer­ent views.

He was al­ready past his fight­ing best when he joined the fledgeling sports desk of the Daily Mir­ror that was still in its early years. My for­mer The Is­land col­league Nava (Navarat­nara­jah) rang me one morn­ing to re­quest a po­si­tion for his brother-in-law at the Daily Mir­ror, and I agreed to in­ter­view him. But I never had an inkling that it would lead me to meet a man who would later be my col­league and friend for years to come as we strived to­gether in a de­ter­mined team to make Daily Mir­ror the num­ber one English daily in the coun­try.

Fran­cis was al­ready in his late six­ties and had never han­dled a com­puter in his life - two strong in­di­ca­tions that would have en­sured he would never be able to start an ab­so­lutely new ca­reer. He pos­sessed a load of news­pa­per clip­pings and other doc­u­ments that he showed me in his ea­ger­ness to prove that he was am­ply qual­i­fied to join the sports desk though it was clear they meant lit­tle for the task at hand.

He was a man ready to fight an un­known bat­tle with his min­i­mal ar­ray of weapons, which made me de­cide that he de­served an op­por­tu­nity to give it a shot even though I my­self was not en­tirely con­vinced of my de­ci­sion. The de­ci­sion to get him in the fold was met with a lot of ap­pre­hen­sion among my col­leagues and even The Editor. Fran­cis was in­formed in no uncer­tain terms that he would have to learn quickly and per­form or depart.

Fran­cis was slow off the mark and needed con­stant nudg­ing as he was some­what re­luc­tant to learn his ABCS of the com­puter. It is a tribute to my col­leagues that we all went through the painstak­ing process of help­ing Fran­cis to be­come a full part of the Daily Mir­ror Sports Desk.

He was way older than the rest of Sports Desk mem­bers and some­times had tiffs with his col­leagues who would of­ten poke fun at him. But he sport­ingly en­dured the ban­ter and provo­ca­tions most of the times. He had twin­kling in his eyes when he of­ten re­called his cher­ished achieve­ments as an ath­lete and a crick­eter in his younger days.

He was trou­bled by con­stant health is­sues but al­ways made his ut­most to at­tend work. He was ded­i­cated, de­ter­mined and al­ways tried to give his best. How­ever, I doubt if he ever grasped the com­plex­i­ties of mod­ern-day sub-edit­ing fully, com­pounded even more by the dig­i­tal tech­no­log­i­cal ad­vance­ments. He par­tic­u­larly rel­ished it when the re­spon­si­bil­ity of page lay­outs was trans­ferred from the sub-editor to a spe­cial­ist lay­out de­part­ment.

Fran­cis never skipped an op­por­tu­nity to have fun. De­spite the age which would have dis­tanced any­one else from the crowd, Fran­cis was al­ways a nat­u­ral, mix­ing with the rest quite ef­fort­lessly. He was a per­ma­nent fix­ture in all edi­to­rial par­ties, trips and es­pe­cially sports com­pe­ti­tions.

His pas­sion for sports never dwin­dled. While be­ing a part of the sports desk, he started coach­ing women’s crick­eters.

Fran­cis was a gen­tle soul, a re­li­gious man and was de­voted to his alma mater St. Bene­dict’s Col­lege. He had friends ev­ery­where and cher­ished re­port­ing on the mer­can­tile sports events.

He may never have been a star in the field of jour­nal­ism. But he proved many wrong with his re­silience and courage, sur­viv­ing one and a half decades in an alien sphere that he entered as an in­ex­pe­ri­enced man en­cum­bered by fre­quent health is­sues and the dis­ad­van­tage of ad­vanced years. He man­aged to stay on top de­spite set­backs and would re­main an in­spi­ra­tion in the hearts of all of us who were around him.

Chan­naka de Silva

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