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Epilogue | Roy G. Francis

Activist, scholar Roy Francis empowered USF's fledgling sociology department

TAMPA — Roy Francis loved people.

As a sociologist, he studied them. As an academic, he educated them for more than 40 years. As a soldier, he helped liberate them. And as an activist, he fought for their rights.

In an academic career that saw him teach at several major universities — including Tulane, Harvard and, for the last 19 years of his career, the University of South Florida — Dr. Francis strived to make the classroom a place of fairness, where students and faculty members had the opportunity to do their best work.

"He had high standards and principles and values," said his wife, Lillie Francis. "I always admired his scholastic and intellectual ability. He loved school and was always very interested in learning. And he read everything he could get his hands on."

Dr. Francis died March 10. He had celebrated his 90th birthday this past Christmas.

As the chairman of USF's sociology department from 1974 to 1982, he had the task of building the young department into a respected sociological research body at the university, which was itself still a new institution.

Michael Kleiman, an associate professor of sociology who came to USF during Dr. Francis' tenure as department chairman, credits him with laying the groundwork for the development of the school's sociology program.

"He was a very other-directed individual," Kleiman said. "He was a champion of facilitating the faculty members, and he ran the department in a way that made it possible for faculty to achieve their full potential. He wasn't just interested in furthering his own career."

Dr. Francis relinquished his chairmanship in 1982 and returned to his own sociological research pursuits, which included an interest in statistics and studies of organizations and institutions. Throughout his career, he published more than 20 books and hundreds of scholarly papers on various sociological subjects.

His love of people was evident in his belief in equality and an activist spirit that moved him to fight for various causes.

When he taught at Tulane University in New Orleans in the 1950s, he became involved in the movement to end classroom segregation, holding racially integrated off-campus classes.

Roy Jr. recalled his father telling him of the classes, in which the white and black students would sit with the other members of their respective races on opposite sides of the room.

"Let's mix it up in here," he recalls his father saying.

As a young student at Linfield College in his native Oregon, Dr. Francis renounced his pacifist beliefs when he talked with Jewish refugees from Germany and learned of the Nazi persecution against Jews in Europe. He joined the Army Air Corps during World War II, earning service medals for his participation as a marksman with the 772nd bombing squadron in campaigns in North Africa, France and Italy.

He rarely spoke of his military experiences after an honorable discharge in 1945 and even surprised some of his colleagues when they learned that he had been to war.

"It was surprising to a lot of people because he was so peaceful," Mrs. Francis said. She met Dr. Francis when she was a graduate student at the University of Wisconsin in the late 1940s.

Dr. Francis, who had always relied on scholarships and other sources of financial aid to pay for his education, had been offered several fellowships at different universities. One of those was Harvard. He turned the others down to attend UW, where his future wife's father chaired the sociology department.

He and Lillie were friends for two years before they married in 1950. They had Roy Jr. and a daughter, Gina.

Upon getting his Ph.D. from Wisconsin, he completed a post-doctoral fellowship at Harvard and later was selected to participate in a program in the sciences sponsored by the Atomic Energy Commission at Oak Ridge, Tenn. Collaborating with scientists from various disciplines, Dr. Francis conducted research about atomic energy.

He spent 13 years at the University of Minnesota and later returned to the University of Wisconsin where he became dean of the college of letters and science and served as Brittingham professor of sociology. When he developed health problems in the 1970s, doctors told him he would benefit from living in a warmer climate. It was then that he came to Florida and began his tenure at USF.

"We've been getting messages from students from long ago, telling us how much influence he had on their lives," Mrs. Francis said. "Some of them go way, way back."

Dan Sullivan can be reached at dsullivan@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3321.

>>Biography

Roy G. Francis

Born: Dec. 25, 1919.

Died: March 10, 2010.

Survivors: Wife Lillie; son Roy Jr.; daughter Gina; and granddaughter Hanna.

Services: The family held private services.

Activist, scholar Roy Francis empowered USF's fledgling sociology department 03/19/10 [Last modified: Saturday, March 20, 2010 12:37am]

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