When one met him first, one could easily be fooled by his quiet and unassuming manner, his seeming detachment. It was his way of sizing up a situation, and the person with whom he was to be engaged. Neath’ that unassuming and quiet exterior was a man possessed of a keen wit, a sharp intellect and almost encyclopaedic knowledge of the subject matter. He enjoyed a good laugh, even those of a self-deprecating nature, and was always up for a good ole boys brawl, be it on the playground, in the courtroom, or over a round of drinks. Of course, we’re memorialising our dearly-departed brother and friend, Attorney Ralph Francis, who slipped this mortal ken yesterday afternoon, after a brief bout of illness. We are certainly the poorer for his passing.
Alas, our lips tremble! Our eyes can barely see through the tears. He was our friend, a fighter. Indeed, even in his legal courtroom battles, there was no case that he thought did not have merit, and could not be fought and won. He could indeed be called “The Patron Saint of seemingly lost causes and cases.” He was always willing to take the fight to the bitter end. And mind you, many times, he could not be paid for his work and effort. Many of his clients were the poor and the down-trodden. But such was the measure of the man -. A friend to the friendless, a voice for the voiceless.
An unknown writer once penned the following, and we believe that it sums up, quite nicely, the brief time that we had here with Ralph: “The tide recedes but leaves behind bright seashells on the sand / The sun goes down, but gentle warmth still lingers on the land / The music stops, and yet it echoes on in sweet refrains….. / For every joy that passes, something beautiful remains.”
This writer remembers how the good attorney attended the last Kaiso Kick-off competition put on by the late Tyrone ‘Edimelo’ Thomas at the Antigua Recreation Grounds. He paid keen attention to every rendition, enthusiastically cheering for those songs that he thought were outstanding. He was also a part of the great Caribbean Court of Justice debates on Observer radio. In fact, whenever there was a weighty matter that was up for a public debate, Attorney Ralph Francis was always ready and able to hold forth at length.
He loved animals, especially horses, and was deeply involved in the sublime ‘sport of kings.’ His sister, Claudia Richards, recalls how he and a few of his boyhood friends, at the tender age of fourteen years, started their own Antigua Horseriding Association. He was a lifelong enthusiast. As he was of golf.
Actually, Claudia in between bouts of tears and laughter, shared some of her fondest recollections of Ralph. He was born to the late, great Sir Claude Earl Francis and Phirza Billinghurst in New York City on May 14th, 1948. He attended the St. Joseph’s Academy, before studying to become an economist. After his studies, he worked under Sir Selvyn Walter in the Progressive Labour Movement (PLM) administration, before going off, with his lifelong friend, Cecil Hewlett, to study law.
Upon his return, he threw himself into his work as a fearless defender of the poor and the dispossessed. Says Claudia, “He was very kind . . exceptionally kind . . to a fault. He was always concerned about the underdog. Money was not his thing; he got his joy from seeing others happy. . . .He had such a soft heart. . . He enjoyed reading . . and loved dancing. In fact, he was quite a dancer. (She chuckles).
Claudia also chuckles at his pro bono work, which was substantial – Ralph Francis, the knight-errant lawyer for the underprivileged. Seemed, they found kinship in his humbleness of spirit. Yes, he knew how to “walk with kings, and not lose the common touch.”
But alas! Night falls fast! Our highly esteemed ‘friend to the friendless’ is gone, and there is a void that will be difficult to fill – his kindness, his gentleness, his simplicity. In fact, Claudia spoke to that simplicity yesterday, when she remarked that they went to look at caskets for Ralph, and settled on something quite plain and unpretentious. They knew that he would have been proud of it. Claudia paused . . . and whispered good-bye to this writer . . .
It was a poignant moment. And one that I shall not soon forget. Wherever we see a David going up against a Goliath, we will remember Ralph. Wherever we see a Daniel come to the halls of justice, we will remember Ralph. Wherever we see a small fearless warrior, staring down the mighty foes of corruption and graft and greed, we will remember Ralph.
Alas! Fare thee well, Brother Ralph!