Valley Lives - Michael Francis

The following article first appeared in "The Low Down to Hull and Back News" in the December 04, 2019 issue. Reprinted with permission.

'He was our hero'

Remembering Michael Francis

By Hunter Cresswell

The mantle of Edie Van Alstine's Ottawa home is covered in condolence cards for her late husband, former Low mayor Michael Francis.

Michael Francis
Michael Francis and Edie Van Alstine in Zermatt, Switzerland in 2005. Photo courtesy Edie Van Alstine.

Van Alstine remembers him as a family man and a people person, which is what helped him during his tenure as mayor.

"He'd go to the store to buy milk and he'd come back four or five hours later because he met someone who had a problem with their road and he'd go with them to see their road and then he'd run into someone else and help them - then he'd get home and would have forgotten the milk," Van Alstine said.

Their son, Matt Francis, remembers hearing his father say the dreaded words, "I have to stop by the hall," and preparing himself for a long stay.

"I did my homework in the car a lot," Matt said laughing.

Matt also recalls going to dinners at the pub with his father and barely being able to talk with him because so many people would come up to say hi or chat.

Francis died in the Ottawa General Hospital on Oct. 23 following a diagnosis of esophageal cancer in August. He's survived by Van Alstine, his son Justin Francis, Justin's wife Rebecca Montsion Francis, his son Matt Francis, Matt's wife Kelsey Rice Francis, and Justin and Rebecca's three-year-old son Hunter and 18-month-old daughter Evie.

"Dad did everything he could do to encourage us to make the right decisions. Trusting in us and allowing us the freedom to learn by doing things rather than trying to control the situation. He kept the doors open for me to develop into who I am, and I am very thankful for that," Justin said.

Michael Francis
Former Low Mayor Michael Francis looks out over the Gatineau River, which he treasured. Photo courtesy Roy McGregor.

Mike Francis' career path took many twists and turns, from starting as a lifeguard at the beaches at Meech Lake and Lac Philippe, to Parks Canada, Environment Canada, the Royal Canadian Mint and even [snow] grooming at Mont-Ste-Marie.

In 1981, he was elected to the Low Council, and in 1983 he was elected as mayor. Van Alstine joked that his time as mayor was more of a hobby than a job.

"He didn't see it that way, but I expect that part of it was that he loved people; had time for virtually everyone and he had a very logical mind and a good education," she said.

The two met at Carleton University. She thought he was cool with a scar above his eye and he asked her to the fall Animal Dance. In 1978, they got married on her dad's birthday - she said that was a gift to her father because he wanted his daughter married - in typical Francis fashion, without much ado, just two friends as witnesses and the judge.

"[Michael] didn't like ceremony," Van Alstine added.

The couple moved to Martindale Rd. in Low in the '70s.

"We both loved our time on the river and spent countless hours exploring every channel and bay," Van Alstine said.

Francis was instrumental in the efforts to get the Heritage Hall and Low Arena built during his 18 years on council. He also helped keep St. Michael's High School open.

"He was everywhere. [If] you needed him, he's there," Liette Hickey said, who worked as a receptionist before becoming Low's director general while Francis was mayor.

"I'll remember him as a wonderful friend," she added. "I miss him."

"He was our hero," Van Alstine said.

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