by Gemma Handy
It was a send-off befitting a king. The Sir Vivian Richards Cricket Ground was yesterday transformed into a sea of green, yellow and red when the nation bid its final farewells to revered Rastafarian leader Franklyn ‘King Frank-I’ Francis.
The iconic former sports show host, reparationist and ambassador to Ethiopia who died on December 6 was eulogised in song, dance and scripture before a wide audience which also included relatives and dignitaries, politicians and diplomats.
Francis had been suffering ill health for some time before he passed away at the Sir Lester Bird Medical Centre aged 72.
Many more people tuned into the thanksgiving service virtually from across the diaspora to pay their final respects to Francis, testimony to his profound and enduring legacy.
The Nyabinghi Theocracy Order performed a rousing musical rendition at the event aptly entitled ‘Tribute to a King’, before Francis’ coffin draped in the national flag.
Among those paying tribute was national hero and cricketing legend Sir Vivian Richards who remembered Francis not just as a “fanatic sports personality” but as one who inspired him to learn more about the country’s history and heritage.
“Being with the king elevated my consciousness to an all-time high,” he said, likening Francis’ crusade for slavery reparations to freedom fighters like Nelson Mandela and Mahatma Gandhi.
Prime Minister Gaston Browne described King Frank-I as a national icon, a Caribbean patriot and an honourable, fearless and resilient leader.
“He converted to Rastafarianism many years ago, at a time when the spiritual guidance it offered was nowhere near mainstream.
“Back then Rastafarians were discriminated against, ostracised and brutalised,” he said, recalling Francis’ tenacious battle for equality.
PM Browne also offered a glimpse into the personal relationship he had with Francis, a friendship he said dated back several decades.
“When I was nine living in a single parent home, my mother became mentally ill and could not provide for us and I ended up on the street as a hungry, barefooted youth,” he said.
The prime minister spoke of how the Rastafarian community had helped him after he became an “errand boy for the community” during that troubled childhood.
And he praised Francis for his commitment to his faith in the face of adversity, adding that Francis’ work had helped ensure today’s Rastafarians were fully integrated into society.
Sports Minister Daryll Matthew spoke of Francis’ “significant legacy” as a broadcaster, a sportsman, a philosopher and a pioneer.
“His contribution to the country and his work in the advancement of sports were phenomenal; he served the nation with distinction and his counsel was of tremendous value to me personally,” Matthew said.
There were additional musical tributes in honour of Francis’ love for US singer Stevie Wonder, including a pan performance by Gavin Francis of the 1976 hit ‘As’ while there was barely a dry eye when youngster Ajanae Bleau sang ‘Lately’.
Others to take to the stage included Governor General Sir Rodney Williams, Francis’ former media colleague James ‘Sly J’ Simon, head of the Reparations Support Commission Dorbrene O’Marde, and friend Marcus Crump who read a poem about reparatory justice.
Remarks from relatives came from Francis’ son Jomo Hunte St Rose, niece Dr Adama Francis and daughters Malaika Lake and Denise Francis.
Denise, a broadcaster herself, remembered the days she would rush to complete homework so she could accompany her beloved father to Fort James to play cricket and swim.
She spoke of the “early trials” of Rastafarianism in Antigua and Barbuda, and how Francis had exposed her not just to the media world but to games like scrabble, bridge and warri.
She recalled his “dry humour”, his love of music and his passion for his country.
Denise added, in reference to her father’s signature radio sign-off, “We know Jah will continue to guide, continue to keep fit and to always be a good sport.”