National Parks team pay tribute to passionate manager who devoted 40 years to tourism
by Gemma Handy
With her infectious smile and larger than life persona, Eloise Francis was one of Nelson’s Dockyard’s most familiar faces – and staunchest advocates – for four decades.
The 60-year-old, who dedicated more than half of her life to enhancing the country’s touristic offerings, died on Tuesday.
Testimonials in honour of the national park’s marketing and events manager flooded social media this week with friends, family and colleagues paying tribute to her generosity, enthusiasm and passion for her work.
Francis was also the manager of the Copper and Lumber Store Hotel, whose many repeat guests affectionately dubbed her ‘Aunty Eloise’.
National Parks Commissioner Ann Marie Martin described her as a “committed and loyal” employee.
“She gave 40 years of unwavering service. For us she was not only a manager; she was a mentor, a mother, friend and loving coworker,” Martin told Observer.
“Eloise was always full of life and laughter, always fun to be around. Her contribution to the park and the many affiliated businesses has left a solid footprint in the lives of thousands of visitors, especially the yachting community who knew her involvement in Sailing Week, Classics and the Antigua Yacht show.
“Eloise made organising these major events easy. Her positive energy, enthusiasm, warmth and sunshine smile will be greatly missed.”
The historic hotel Francis managed has long been a favourite haunt for destination weddings – and she was in her element at the helm of their planning.
Martin said Francis’ most enjoyable times were organising nuptials and interacting with guests.
“Eloise enjoyed bossing all of us around, and we enjoyed watching her getting the thrill from it,” she smiled.
Francis was also instrumental in setting up the Clarence House Trust, Martin said.
“She was the head of the visitor services department and pioneer of the tour guiding programme. She trained many youngsters in the field,” she added.
Francis’ love for the industry prompted her to study for a master’s degree in heritage tourism in the UK. As a child she attended All Saints Secondary School, which posted condolences to her family on its Facebook page earlier this week.
On Francis’ own Facebook page, she described herself as “bubbly, smart and fun”.
Those close to her had plenty more to add.
Among them is Andy Liburd who had worked with her for the last 10 years after being invited by Francis to join the team behind Seafood Friday – today one of the park’s signature social events.
“When I first met her, it was a tough time in my life and I was introduced to someone who literally saved my career and lifted me up personally from the doldrums I was in,” Liburd told Observer.
“I looked to her for wise counsel, guidance and advice. She was that kind of caring person, and not just for me; I think she did that for everyone she came in contact with.”
Liburd recalled Francis’ zeal for life.
“If you knew Eloise you got to know what life is all about and you live it abundantly, with fervour, with a sense of sharing and giving, you live it and laugh, you enjoy every moment,” he said.
“Eloise’s mantra was to seek to exceed expectations; it was reflected in the quality of the events and activities that took place within the park.
“Sometimes I would comment to her that we had become victims of our own success. Our events were of such high standard – and a lot of it was because of her doing – that the demands placed on us sometimes put a lot of pressure on the team. But somehow, with her initiatives and urging, we were able to pull through.
“She had an eye for detail, she knew the tourism industry, understood customer needs and always spoke about meeting their expectations and ensuring satisfaction in everything we do. She always ensured Nelson’s Dockyard National Park was represented at its very best,” Liburd said.
Francis’ “imprint” is evident in every phase of the park’s evolution and development over the years, he said.
“Eloise loved Antigua and Barbuda and the people around her. She always brought something positive. She never rushed for the limelight, she just was the limelight. You would always notice her presence; she was that exuberant and had that much charisma.
“Her life’s work is a legacy unto itself,” he added.
Those sentiments were also echoed by Observer Radio’s station manager Dave Lester Payne, who paid tribute to his friend of more than 30 years. Francis had suffered with ill health for some time.
“I’m really saddened by her passing. Eloise was kind, caring, a hospitality queen, a giant of a lady,” he said. “She was a blessing to the English Harbour community; they have lost a great, great lady.”