I first met Chattanooga Police Department Capt. Jeff Francis and his family a few years ago, when my family and his were members of Highland Park Baptist Church. Jeff’s son Daniel would tell me story after story about his dad’s time on the force and his dad’s time as a dad. The kind of dad he described was the kind of dad I wanted to be. He not only deeply loved his family, but he loved his church family, his police family, the community he served and protected, the students and campers he taught and mentored, and above all else, the Lord. He was a true leader, and it’s ironic that his long battle with heart disease was what claimed his life last week, as his heart for others is what his life will long be remembered for.
For someone who was always so busy doing so many things, it was amazing how Jeff would seemingly always drop everything to talk to someone or otherwise give of himself. The impact his life had on others can be read in the many, many tributes people have been posting about him and to him on his Facebook page during the last few days. Here are but a few:
“I chose Capt. Francis to pin my badge on me at my academy graduation because I admired the shining example he was of a police officer and a Christian man—definitely one of the good ones.”
“Jeff Francis is the reason I am teaching today. I had a really bad experience student teaching at East Lake Elementary, and he not only talked me through it, but also encouraged me by reminding me that I was a dedicated and loving teacher with a heart for God and not to give up.”
“Jeff always answered the phone and always had a kind and honest word of encouragement.”
“I have confidence, strength, training, knowledge, healing and forgiveness because of what Jeff Francis and Gail taught and shared with me while I was in Chattanooga.”
“The day I graduated from the academy, Capt. Jeff Francis gave me a Bible. He took time to underline key passages of scripture that he knew I would need as a police officer.”
“I remember sitting at the dorm desk one Sunday morning when you walked in and introduced yourself. Since then, you proceeded to check in on me, make sure the guys in my life were treating me right (or ELSE), coach me through a cave of giant cave crickets, help me with my yearbook photography and just plain cared.”
“He had a greater impact on my life than most people know. I am thankful for all the times he fixed my Jeep, took me camping, taught me self-defense and took me to the hospital when I had a concussion.“
“Capt. Jeff Francis was in every way an inspiration for me. He was one of those one-of-a-kind people that had an incredible energy for life and a passion for God, his family, his friends and pretty much all of humanity that was beyond explanation. He always left you feeling so good about life in general.”
“I’m so glad that I had the privilege and honor of knowing you. You opened up your home and heart to many college kids just like me and changed our lives for the better.”
I had many great conversations with Jeff over the years. He taught me a lot about the city and about what was important in life. As his health issues worsened, he talked a lot about living on borrowed time. He truly wanted to help people anyway he could for as long as he could. Jeff was also very open about discussing the mistakes he’d made in his life, explaining to me that it was difficult to tell others that they needed God in their lives if he wasn't open about needing him in his own life, too.
Daniel and I became first-time dads within weeks of each other, and once, after Daniel had joined him on the force, Jeff joked that if Daniel’s daughter and my son ever got married, my son would have a police officer for a father-in-law and a grandfather-in-law. I last saw Jeff a few weeks ago at his granddaughter’s birthday party. Toward the end of the party, I asked him how he was doing.
“I shouldn’t be alive,” he joked with me before he tore off to play with his grandkids, my kids and the other kids at the party.
If there’s anybody who should be alive, it’s Jeff Francis.
I’m glad to have known him. He will be missed. For now.
Jeff Francis passed away Feb. 20. He was 54. My prayers go out to Gail, Daniel, Darci, Kristen, Ben, Christopher, Emma, Tobin, Alise and the rest of Jeff's family, friends, fellow officers, students, campers and anyone else whose life he touched.
Bill Colrus writes about (in no particular order) local news, culture, music and media. You can find him on Facebook, follow him on Twitter or reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. The opinions expressed in this column belong solely to the author, not Nooga.com or its employees.