By Shermain Bique-Charles
The late Ralph Francis wasn’t one to settle for easy tasks or the mundane. As one of Antigua and Barbuda’s most prominent attorneys, those close to him both personally and professionally said he loved a good challenge.
Many people who knew him well said, throughout life, he lived with gusto, turning the ordinary into the memorable.
“Not only an avid golf player but also very competitive every time we hit the pool tables around Antigua…and Monserrat. Disorganised, opinionated, very funny and stubborn as a mule. I will for sure miss my many political conversations with him,” his friend and former client, Sira Berzas, told Observer yesterday.
Francis died of apparent Covid-related complications at Mount St John’s Medical Centre on Tuesday, aged 72.
Colleagues remembered him as one who fought with force and compassion.
“He was a formidable legal stalwart who always defended his clients with passion, vigour and honour. Ralph, always without hesitation, at the invitation of the court or out of his own generosity, represented defendants pro bono,” a statement from the Director of Public Prosecutions’ office said.
“Despite being on opposite sides of the criminal process, Ralph was a pleasure to work with – respectful, courteous and affable even when we fundamentally disagreed,” it continued.
Francis will also be remembered as a fine storyteller, often keeping fellow attorneys, plus clients, court staff and general observers alike thoroughly amused during court proceedings.
“We will never forget his amiable personality and boisterous laughter. His invaluable contribution to the administration of justice in the criminal courts will forever be etched in the history of Antigua and Barbuda,” the statement added.
Francis was also a politician, having contested the Barbuda seat as an independent candidate in the 2018 general election.
Francis also contested the All Saints East and St Luke seat in 2009 for the Organization for National Development (OND).
Leader of the United Progressive Party Harold Lovell said Francis was known for his love for people, and for being a straight-talking, down-to-earth person.
Lovell, who is also an attorney, recalled that he had known of Ralph before they met in London in 1984. At the time Francis was just completing his Bar exams and Lovell was beginning his legal studies.
“Ralph practiced extensively, though not exclusively, at the criminal Bar and earned a well-deserved reputation as a friend of the poor who routinely gave his time and talent pro bono,” he said.
Francis, Lovell explained, was never afraid or shy to advance novel legal submissions, and he gained some notable landmark decisions.
“But even though he didn’t always get it right, no one could question his passion for justice nor his sincere desire to right the wrong.
“He was fearless in his quest to defend the constitutional rights of the people and was uncompromising in his distaste for tyranny and repression of any sort.”
Admitting that the pair were brothers-in-arms during the formative years of the UPP and fought many political battles, side by side, on the frontlines, Lovell recalled one quality above all else.
“When Ralph had a point or a belief, he would argue for hours, holding his point to the end. He was not a man easily swayed and it took a lot to impress him. Yet, he was that rare breed of political partisan with the charming ability to disagree agreeably,” he added.