The nation mourns late journalist, communications officer described as a ‘rare gem’

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A consummate professional and a rare gem summed up the way former co-workers, colleagues and friends at home and abroad have described a mother, veteran journalist, and public relations expert who died yesterday morning.

The flood of tributes for Debbie Francis poured in soon after news broke of the sad event which has rocked her family, friends and the media fraternity in Antigua and Barbuda.

For many, she was not just a devoted worker; she was also a genuine friend and a great team player. Francis last worked as the Communications Officer for the Ministry of Agriculture, however, her career started in the 1980s at the state-owned Antigua Broadcasting Services (ABS).

The father of Francis’s daughter, Veron Edwards Jnr, said on his social media page that she was “one of the greatest persons ever to enter my life and the mother of my first born Rocquelle Edwards; Debbie Francis RIP love always”.

Minister of Agriculture Samantha Marshall told Observer that she knew Francis long before her stint at the ministry, noting that they worked together when the advocacy group Women Against Rape was formed.

Marshall described Francs as a kind-hearted, and encouraging person who helped to bring a face to the Ministry of Agriculture and who was integral to the whole ministry.

“On behalf of the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries, and Barbuda Affairs, I express heartfelt condolences to the family and loved ones on the untimely passing of our effervescent Public Relations Officer at the Ministry. Debbie, you will be dearly missed by all,” Marshall said.

The Management and Staff of the Ministry of Health, Wellness and the Environment, where Francis also worked as Communications Officer for several years, also expressed condolences her family.

Another former colleague Andy Liburd who worked with Francis at ABS said that he has long admired Francis’s passion for writing, not just news, but also in storytelling.

He said that she loved life and he observed her as she grew from a no-nonsense individual, raw and uncut around the edges, into a true professional who cared deeply about her work.

“Writing about health matters seemed to have provoked her passions the most, and I had the extreme delight to guide her in the construct of some of those pieces. A couple of times she deservedly earned the PAHO Media Awards for her work as a result. In the same way that I admired her work and gave her my fullest support, it is in the same way that I earned her respect and despite us moving on to separate endeavours, she would still call me ‘boss’ embarrassingly. I gave up on trying to stop her, because so was her giving spirit,” Liburd said.

Meanwhile, United Progressive Party (UPP) Senator Shawn Nicholas described Francis as “a true team player and always a peacemaker. She shied away from anything that was controversial and always sought to find a common ground. I will remember fondly our days in the ABS newsroom. Her spirited arguments as we discussed current topics or news leads and how they should be handled. Sincere condolences to her entire family, especially her daughter Rocquelle, who was an ABS baby”.

Carolyn Thomas Parker, another former ABS colleague, expressed condolences to the bereaved family indicating that, “this young woman was a free spirit, full of life, love and laughter, she was really a good person with a good heart and soul. May she rest in perpetual peace”.

Stating that the passing of the beloved mother is a great loss for the media fraternity, Jermaine Kentish added: “I met Debbie in 2005 when I started working at ABS. She was the most bubbly, joyful and supportive person there. When I was transferred to the Ministry of Health, I ran into her again as my boss in the Communication Department. She was an impeccable character and her death is a loss to the family, the media, and the country on a whole.”

And, from Guyana, former Observer media professional Martina McDonald Johnson paid tribute to Francis whom she described as a great mother, a proactive media worker, and her former neighbour.

“Debbie was someone who always spoke well of others, jovial, fun, loved life, life of the party … I can never truly describe all of who you were. You will be missed. My family and I have so many fond memories of you and we will cherish them. SIP my dear,” Johnson shared in a Facebook post.

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