Obituary: Ralph Francis

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Ralph Francis

THE funeral service for Ralph Francis, of Tixover Grange, Tixover, took place at Marholm Crematorium. Donations were made to the National Garden Scheme and a memorial service will take place at Oakham Castle on September 23 at midday. Ralph died at Peterborough City Hospital.

Born in Stamford, he was the fifth of six brothers whose father Sam was a foundryman and staunch unionist. His mother Emily ran a tight ship. Ralph attended Stamford School until he was 16, but was unable to go on to the sixth form or university because of the Great Depression and family circumstances. He completed his education through correspondence courses and evening classes and eventually taught shorthand with the disconcerting habit of being able to read his student’s outlines upside down. Immediately after school he joined the town clerk’s office in Stamford. During the Second World War he was a sergeant in the RAF, and, declared unfit for active duty, he established and developed air bases including that at Ashbourne in Derbyshire, demonstrating a formidable administrative talent.

He married Eileen Jenkins during the war and they returned to live in Hambleton when he joined Oakham District Council. Seven years later, when Mr Farrant the clerk died, he was appointed, at 33, clerk to the council and remained as chief executive and managed the extensive changes of the council’s various manifestations until his retirement in 1984. He had seen it become in turn Rutland District Council, a district council of Leicestershire County Council (after Rutland’s abolition by the Boundary Commission), and with its eventual return to county status, Rutland County Council where he was chief executive. He had been opposed to the abolition and commissioned and helped to erect Rutland signs on the A1 as an elegant protest.

He was involved in every aspect of Rutland’s post war development including public housing and sewerage and the County Museum as well as the overall planning of the county’s future. He oversaw from the local authority side the surveying, planning and building of Rutland Water which flooded the fields he had walked as a newly-wed. The character of the county owes much to his careful nurture and preservation of rural values. He valued his relationships with his chairmen, particularly ‘Lordy’, the Earl of Gainsborough and they shared an ideal of public service. He was proud that the council was non-partisan. He insisted on his own political neutrality although his fondness for William Cobbett and his habit of going in person on Friday evenings to coax out overdue rents suggests that his sympathies were similar to his father and brothers and memories of a depression childhood. He devoted himself to public service and to Rutland and its people.

He was a keen sportsman, playing cricket for Hambleton and then as wicketkeeper at Langham. He shared his family’s fondness for football and, characteristically, became a league referee and officiated in Stamford and elsewhere. He supported the development of football all his life. He was a board member for COSIRA and worked hard after his retirement to promote small businesses. He enjoyed fishing at Stoke Dry and later in Rutland Water; his fishing partner, Leslie Jones, was a great gardener and the conversations were no doubt impassioned. He sang in a local choir and became a woodturner.

His great love was gardening and he spent as much time as possible out of doors working on his garden in Cottesmore, and for many years had been self-sufficient. He became especially interested in daffodils and exhibited in Oakham, Birmingham and occasionally in London. He bought a share in the collection of Fred Board in Darley Dale and returned to near Ashbourne to dig and then replant and grow his bulbs and seedlings.

Following his wife’s death, he lived alone for several years in Cottesmore until he moved into Crown House in Oakham where he enjoyed cruising with his frame, up and down the High Street and then at Tixover Care Home.

He leaves a son and daughter, four grandchildren and narrowly missed his first great grandchild, born on the day he died.