I am profoundly saddened to share with you that Joan Francolini, Brescia’s Chancellor, alumna, benefactor and loyal friend, passed away yesterday, June 22nd, following an extended illness. In my life, I have rarely encountered such a unique combination of integrity, grace and commitment in one person and I am deeply grateful for the time that Joan spent with me personally as I have navigated my path at Brescia and within the broader London community since my arrival in 2008. I know of no better single example of leadership through service than Joan – a quality that is central to Brescia’s mission and to fully appreciating this remarkable woman.
Joan was a very proud Brescia and Western University alumna, remaining a most active member of the Class of 1955 and a strong supporter of all things Brescia until her illness no longer permitted that. Joan met her future husband, Geno, when they were students here, and they went on to marry and raise six great children. Five of these children have earned degrees from Western, including their daughter Sara who followed in her mother’s footsteps by graduating from Brescia in 1983. We share in the sorrow of this amazing family: Joan is survived by her husband Geno, their children Lezlie (Don), Geoff (Wendy), Sara (Doug), Tony (Angie), James (Lisa), and Mark (Clair), and their many grandchildren.
At Brescia, Joan served on the Board of Directors of the Brescia University College Foundation from 2006 to 2011, including a term as Chair of the Board from 2008-2010. In 2010, Joan was selected to receive the Carmelle Murphy Alumnae Award of Distinction, the highest alumnae award that Brescia grants in recognition of sustained achievement and community leadership from among our distinguished alumnae. In 2012, Joan earned an Honorary Doctorate from her alma mater, Western University, an honour that touched her deeply.
It was with tremendous pride that Brescia installed Dr. Joan Francolini as our inaugural Chancellor in June 2013, celebrating this investiture as part of our annual Baccalaureate and Magisterial ceremony in St. Peter’s Basilica. In selecting Joan for this role, it was clear to Brescia’s Board of Trustees that this title would only serve to formalize Joan’s place as Brescia’s strongest community advocate and supporter. Since her installation, Chancellor Francolini has continued to support Brescia’s many activities, advancing the interests of this institution as she has done since her graduation.
Joan’s commitment to community did not stop at Brescia, and over her life of service, she dedicated great energy to the interests of Western University as well. Joan served on a number of Western committees, and was an active member of Foundation Western. In 2001, Western recognized Joan with the Dr. Ivan Smith Alumni Award of Merit, the highest honour that a Western graduate can receive, for sustained and significant contribution to Western University and to society.
In the broader community, Joan focused her efforts on healthcare governance and advocacy, demonstrating passionate engagement through terms on the Tillsonburg District Memorial Hospital Board, the Tillsonburg Hospital Auxiliary, the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Ontario, the Ontario Hospital Association, and the Board of Directors for St. Joseph’s Health Care. Joan also volunteered at countless other community organizations, including the London Community Foundation, the YMCA, and the United Way of London and Middlesex. She also served a term on the Selection Committee for the Order of Ontario.
Joan’s deep engagement to her community has not gone unnoticed. In addition to the recognition of her service by Brescia and by Western University, Joan received a number of significant awards, including the Order of Ontario, the YMCA’s Women of Excellence Award for Lifetime Achievement, and the 1992 Commemorative Medal for the 125th anniversary of the Confederation of Canada.
Professionally, Joan was the first Executive Director of The Lawson Foundation, serving from 1992 to 2001, where she made a huge contribution both at Lawson and in supporting the various initiatives that it supported. Of particular note was her instrumental role in the launch of Let’s Talk Science, a tremendous organization dedicated to the promotion of science that now reaches hundreds of thousands of children and educators across Canada.
A few words on a page could never hope to capture the exceptional impact of this visionary leader. In my early days at Brescia, I came to anticipate Joan’s little handwritten notes of support that she would drop into the mail or at my office, usually accompanied by a newspaper clipping that she had come across with an idea for me or for Brescia. She had a voracious appetite for new ideas and over the past six years, I cannot count the number of informal calls I have had from Joan with a suggestion or some words of congratulations or encouragement over a recent Brescia development.
Joan spent much of her time introducing me to community leaders across London in my early days here, taking every opportunity to support Brescia’s external presence. As her illness progressed, those notes and calls and visits dwindled, but I am certain that Joan kept Brescia close in her thoughts and prayers until the very end. During our last visit some days ago, Joan spoke so fondly of her time at Brescia and at Western, and of how well she had been cared for on our campus as a young student.
And, now, as our faith tells us, Joan will be in a very unique position to watch over her family and her community from a slightly different vantage point. I know that she will continue to care for all of us as she has done throughout her lifetime.
I have shared on your behalf our collective condolences with the Francolini family, expressing to them our profound sorrow at this time.
We will miss her dearly.
Brescia University College
The family would like to celebrate Joan’s life and achievements and invite you to join them at that celebration from 10 a.m.-1 p.m. Saturday, June 28 at The Mercato at Brescia, with family remarks at 11 a.m.
To make a contribution in memory of Joan Francolini, please click here.
View the Memorial Service video here.
London Free Press story here.