Remembering Fran Blackney
By Valerie Shelton, Editor
The Clovis community lost one of its most inspirational and creative citizens last week.
Francine Blackney, 65, the Clovis Chamber of Commerce communications, business and political advocacy director and Young Entrepreneurs Academy (YEA) manager, died suddenly of a heart attack in her home on Saturday, Nov. 7.
The news came as a shock to all who knew the enthusiastic and passionate woman behind the scenes of the chamber’s many events and programs. Those who worked alongside her, including husband and CEO Mark Blackney, describe her as the one who kept the wheels turning at the chamber.
Mark Blackney said he was blessed to be able to work with his wife the past 13 years.
“I refer to these years as the Tracy-Hepburn years because, like Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn, we were together 24/7 and even when I wanted to crash when I came home, she would say ‘I’ve got an idea’ and she would go on and on about this idea and I knew we were going to do it,” Blackney said.
Even though she wore many hats—writer of the monthly chamber Insider newsletter, fielder of phone calls, event planner, YEA director—Mark said his wife was always eager to share new ideas that could make the chamber better, even when it meant she would have to do even more work. Above all, he said, she built meaningful relationships in the community.
“She built wonderful relationships with our government representatives and our community and our chamber members as well,” Blackney said.
An example of this was Fran’s relationship with radio personality Christopher Gabriel. Gabriel came to the local iHeart station from the Midwest in January and Fran was one of the first people to welcome him to town.
“He claims she was his first and best friend moving this way and he had her on to talk about a variety of issues,” Blackney said. “She would call in and he would say ‘I’m going to take a call from my friend Fran.’ They had a special relationship.”
Fran also loved working with and building relationships with students in her YEA program.
“She embellished what was presented in the course and got mentors from the local business community and made the course very personal and personable by teaching the soft skills, like the importance of a firm handshake and looking someone in the eye when you’re talking to them,” Blackney said. “Watching her work with them was like watching her work with our own children. That’s how much she cared about them.”
Though Fran’s YEA manager shoes will be tough to fill, Blackney said chamber vice chairs Deborah Ikeda and Rod Geist, along with co-instructors Rick Snow and Bob Siverson, have agreed to keep the program going without skipping a beat—even managing to hold class the Tuesday after Fran’s passing. “It’s what Fran would have wanted,” Blackney said.
Geist even helped the family create a scholarship fund for YEA in Fran’s honor. Donations made to the fund will help the YEA program continue for years to come.
Of course, Fran Blackney’s influence and accomplishments go far beyond her work for the chamber. She was an accomplished seamstress, a fashionista and a multi-instrumental musician who could sing, play piano, cello and acoustic guitar.
Above all, though, it’s Fran’s outstanding character that her family and friends will remember most.
“As far as qualities go, she was so honest. She was passionate and honest,” Fran’s sister Marian Jocoby said. “I’m reading a book called “No excuses” right now and it’s a motivational book and as I read it with all this happening, I’m thinking that really summarizes Francine’s whole philosophy of life—no excuses. She didn’t complain and if she made a mistake she owned up to it. There were just no excuses with her. She never played victim. You can’t help but admire someone like that. That is why she is getting these accolades. Her character shines through so much that little memories are just incidental.”
Even from the moment she was born, Fran’s 101-year-old mother, Frances Lones, said she recalls Francine having maturity beyond her years.
“Ever since she was little, she had a way of making everybody feel good,” Lones said. “She seemed to have the ability to say the right things and everybody in the family would call Francine because she was sort of the rock in the family. We would call her because she would always comfort you and she was there to help you. Even when she was born she seemed more matured than her age. She even slept the whole night the first night she came home from the hospital which is almost unheard of. You also never knew when she was hurting because she always had a smile on her face…She was wonderful to me. She was always so helpful. You could always rely on Francine. I was always impressed because she taught her children from the start to respect and love me.”
Fran’s children, Kevin and Corinne, say they couldn’t have asked for a better mother.
Corinne Blackney described her mom as her best friend and said she remembers her honesty and her emphasis on family first. Her mom also instilled in her and her brother a strong work ethic.
“Mom always taught me that if you want something you have to earn it,” Corinne said. “Our first cars, our aunt bought us, but my mom made sure it our aunt just loaned the money so we had to pay her back to learn how to live and survive. If I wanted something in high school, I had to start working to get it. Not many people get that these days. Now, I cherish that because she instilled that work ethic of try hard, do your best, and you’ll succeed. I still called her up to last week for advice on how to do something at work. We wanted to make her proud.”
Kevin added that he remembers his mom was always even-tempered. She was also a huge sports fan, he said, who not only loved the San Francisco Giants and 49ers, but the Clovis High Cougars. Long after Kevin graduated, he said mom continued to keep up with Clovis High sports and would call him to let him know how his old high school teams were doing.
Mark said his favorite thing about his wife of 40 years was that she was real.
“She was so real and that was the thing that struck me first, other than her being the most beautiful woman I’d ever met,” Mark said. “She was just real, she was just Fran. On our first date, I knew who she was.”
One of Mark’s fondest memories of Fran is the night he proposed.
“We knew within a week or two of when we started dating that we were going to get married and we went and picked out a ring in Santa Rosa at the jewelry store and I was so excited,” Mark said. “I decided I would give it to her at Christmastime, so we made special plans. We went across the Bay in San Francisco to watch the Nutcracker and we saw two children in velvet clothes, dressed to the nines—they looked like they were from the turn of the century actually—and they were seated behind us and we kept looking behind us at them and Fran said ‘we’re going to bring our children to this one of these days.’ We were already talking about having kids and raising a family and I was so excited to get back to the apartment across the Bay Bridge because I had it all planned. I had champagne in the fridge and I was chilling the glasses and I hid the ring. I was anxious to get back and on our way back, she said, ‘let’s stop at Tower records and get an album’ so we stopped in Berkeley and bought the album and I was almost frustrated and we got back to the apartment and I got everything ready and I put the ring in the bottom of her glass and we started to sip it and she was like, ‘why are we drinking champagne?’ and she looked at the bottom of the glass and just said ‘Is this what I think it is?’ I didn’t even propose to her but she got excited, put the ring on. That was just three months after we started dating.”
Fran Blackney will forever be missed by Mark, the rest of her family and all who knew her.