When I first went to work at The Jacksonville Daily News back in the 70’s, my then-city editor Elliott Potter sent me to Pollocksville to cover something and told me that I would meet a “bubbly little” reporter from the New Bern Sun Journal named Francine Sawyer. She wasn’t there that night, but my path frequently crossed hers over the years that followed.
When I left the newspaper and took over the Onslow County Bureau for WCTI, Channel 12 in New Bern, Francine was doing the morning cut-ins and news for the station. She got up at this insane hour of the night to come in, check the newsfeeds, write her scripts and be ready to broadcast. We became fast friends.
Francine and I were buddies with the Carteret County reporter, Tom McQuaid, a gentle giant of a guy who had a way with sarcasm, as did Francine. We’d often retire to have dinner and drink after work, then head to our respective homes. Fran was married to Alfred, known to all of her friend as “Alfred the husband,” a wonderful and extremely understanding man who gave Francine permission to be herself. The two of them had a dachshund named Thurmon Munson, who was like a child to them. Over the years, as their doxies passed into doxie heaven, she continued her love of the breed, but Munson was, as she put it, “King of the Beasts.”
Once, when Francine was with Channel 12, I was in the process of cutting my own hair (which is something I should never do) and she called. Her first words to me once she found out what I was doing were, “Put down the scissors and back away.” Good advice. My head was mess. She also had a running battle with one of the two very irritating interns we had at the time. One was an annoyingly ambitious guy who wanted her beat and the other an annoying ambitious girl who wanted my beat. He’d beg to go out on the road and the news director would tell him to take Francine’s video equipment, which she would lock up at her house. Then, she’d refuse to answer the door when he came over. He’d go around peering in her windows and banging on the walls, making her mad. Once, the boss told me to call her and tell her to give him the equipment. I called and Francine pretended to be her own Vietnamese maid. I told her I knew she didn’t have a Vietnamese maid, but she refused to admit it was her. Francine was never dull.
Then there was the time we rode on a float in Wilmington’s Azalea Festival and we had to be at the parade route early in the morning, where we basically stood around and did nothing. Francine climbed off the float and bought a small bottle of bourbon in paper bag from a total stranger in the crowd and slipped back up on the float with it. She rode that whole parade route with a little help from her friend.
Francine never met a news story she didn’t love to go after. She’d call the police or feds and pretend she’d already been talking to some other official about a case and bluff her way into prying more information out of them. She loved chasing a good story, loved her cops and loved her job. She was a true old-fashioned reporter in the purest sense of the word and the absolute best at getting the facts. No one beat her on a story.
Once, we went to lunch at a Jacksonville restaurant and the cute young manager gave us a discount. Francine beamed until a mutual friend told me that it was the seniors discount (to be fair, we weren’t anywhere near being seniors). Whenever we went to lunch and the server would introduce herself or himself to us, she’d introduce us right back. To Francine that made perfect sense.
When Francine left Channel 12 she went to the PBS radio station and spun classical music in New Bern. She confided to me that she got a lot of calls from angry classical music lovers upset at her maligning of composers’ names. Unapologetic, Francine would take the calls and keep right on trucking, her pronunciation as bad as it was before.
When she worked at The Daily News and they implemented a keypad with a passcode for employees, she had a hard time remembering the number, so she wrote it on the wall next to the keypad — at least until management got wind of it.
There were a lot of people she loved: Alfred, her sweet husband, her editors, her mentors, other news folk and people who didn’t waste her time. Francine had no use for people who had no substance. If you were considered a friend, then you were lucky: Francine’s palate was choosy and she wasn’t afraid to tell someone to take a hike.
On Friday, October 7th, Francine, who had many health issues over the years, died at home. To say that the many, many people who loved her and can’t imagine a life without her in it were stunned is so inadequate. We will all miss her dearly.
Oh, Miss, I can’t believe you’re gone.
Carole Moore welcomes email at email@example.com.