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July 30, 2005

I can't let go of Dr. Francis as the subject of this column without retelling one more time the story of his "arrival" in this country many years ago. Of course, Dr. Francis, an MD with all the verification that position of eminence requires, has been gone from here for several years, but good stories like this are worthy of retelling forever. Just in case you missed the most recent version, Dr. Francis was a principal subject in the story about Jack Stone that appeared in this column a few days ago. Many of us still remember Dr. Francis as the sly, sharp-witted son of the Ozarks, which is what he was.

Dr. Francis was a member of the Perry Rotary Club. His wife, Rachel, and their oldest daughter, Katherine, were good friends of my Mother and many Monday nights (at the time when Rotary then met) Rachel and Katherine would gather at our house to fill the time, just talking. On the particular night I'm writing about, perhaps more than 50 years ago, that was the case. At Rotary, the club president announced that in lieu of a visiting speaker, he was going to ask five members to tell about the first dollar they earned. Dr. Francis was one of those chosen to speak extemporaneously. He relished the chance.

When his turn came, Dr. Francis spoke in a solemn voice. He related how he hitched a ride in the galley of an ocean liner that was heading to the U.S. from his native England, then how he saved his pennies in the U.S. until he had enough to enter a medical school and emerged with a cherished diploma. Eventually he earned his medical license, and he chose to come to Perry because it sounded like a good place, and that he had been here ever since. His embellishments made it a winner, and finally Dr. Francis sat down hearing tumultuous applause for the story he had just told. I went home, Rachel and Katherine were still there, and I repeated the story. Rachel sniffed and said: "None of that happened. He was born and raised in the Ozarks, and that's the only home he's ever known."

I was crushed to hear the true story, but although I saw Dr. Francis daily after that, he never let on that I knew what he told us was one big fabrication. His story was better.