Early one morning I found myself with some unusual “idle time” in the Nashville airport. Walking past the entrance to the Transportation Security Agency (TSA) checkpoint, I noticed an elderly African-American lady scurry up, looking very dignified in her well-pressed volunteer clothes. Her apparent duty was to serve at the volunteer desk just outside the security checkpoint, answering any questions for harried travelers, and imparting a final dose of Nashville hospitality to departing visitors of “Music City USA.” Drawn by her sense of dignity and purpose, I walked over to the volunteer desk as Mrs. Doris Francois was getting settled. I knew there was probably a powerful life story behind this dignified elder and I was right. Beginning the conversation with something like “You are really up early!” I spent the next thirty minutes hearing about a fascinating life and a true Profile in Resilience.
Doris Francois was brought up Catholic, in New Orleans, poor, the eldest of five children. She was very involved in healthy activities as a child-competing in basketball all over the city with the Catholic Youth Organization, playing the piano, and singing in small operettas. Her grandfather, one who had a significant impact on her life, played jazz music in New Orleans. In her early years of schooling, Doris threw herself into learning, despite the decrepit text books with pages torn out and marred with writing.
Early on she wanted to be a missionary or a nun. Most women at that time would be a teacher, an office assistant, or work at the Post Office. Despite the odds, and after praying the Lord would direct her path, Mrs. Francois decided she wanted to be a doctor — this would be her “pursuit of happiness.” While persisting with her medical education, she worked part-time for $3 per shift and car fare (7 cents for a street car and bus to get to her job). Wanting to attend a good medical university up North, she was told she had many strikes against her as a woman — poor, colored, Catholic, entering a field dominated by males, and being hearing-impaired. Many predicted she would fail, yet Doris Francois stayed the course to become a medical doctor, a pediatrician. Her subsequent distinguished medical career allowed her to be the hands and feet of the Great Physician in varied children’s hospitals, internal medicine and family practices, community-based clinics, and State of Tennessee care facilities for disabled clients.
Interestingly, Doris Francois married in 1963 as racial tensions were heightening and the government was preparing to launch Great Society social programs in America which would initially help but eventually condemn millions to social and economic dependency. She was not lured into complacency, an entitlement mentality, or racial antagonism, however. With her cardiologist husband, she would make house calls for those who couldn’t come during the week or didn’t have the money. They also made opportunities available for other young people by providing funding for education, books or lunch money, or helping them improve in their studies.
Retired since 2000, Mrs. Francois at age 81 still volunteers and makes a difference in someone’s life every day, now working with the Flying Aces volunteer group at the Nashville airport for over ten years. The pearls of wisdom which flow from her years of caring for others read like the Proverbs: “Do not exploit people. There are no failures, just challenges in life. Be kind and good to people and you will have impacted them in a positive way. Do what you are passionate about. Be self-sufficient and independent. Learn from your experiences every day. Always wake up being grateful.” This is sage advice from one who could have easily succumbed to the lure of dependency and entitlement.
Her reflections on the current status of America are equally profound. In her own words: “We don’t seem to share and care for people and their welfare, racing on the fast track of selfish pursuits. Taking prayer out of schools has impacted our national morality. Loss of discipline and respect in the family, as well as preoccupation with cell phones and 24/7 media, has robbed us of the ability to play and worship together. So many are learning to take the road of least resistance, seeking whatever is pleasurable for the here and now. So many brilliant and talented young people whose minds should be prepared to lead us in the subsequent decades are being poisoned by privileged living for the moment, with the acquisition of material things defining their successes so that caring for their neighbor and others has been discarded. Drugs and pornography have become the real weapons of mass destruction in our children’s minds.” She has certainly put her finger on the Spiritual Infrastructure challenges of America.
Doris Francois’ ultimate advice to America in 2014 turns to the power of personal faith: “Pray and ask God to lead you. It is not about religion, but about what is in your heart. Love and respect the individual, not knowing when you may be touching God Himself.”
Maybe you, too, will be privileged to meet Doris Francois one day. It would be worth a trip through the Nashville airport. She is an inspiring example of one who could easily have spent her life homeless, poverty stricken, dependent on handouts, and bitter at the world about her. I’m sure you appreciate the realities she navigated as a young African-American woman in the 1950s forward. Yet, she fought to be educated, worked hard, contributed greatly (to the health care others), forgave much, loved many, spoke kindly, and fostered unity in her pursuit of happiness. She benefited from hand-up opportunities, but never depended on handouts. She pursued happiness in true American fashion — and certainly achieved it .
… she fought to be educated, worked hard, contributed greatly
(to the health care of others), forgave much, loved many,
spoke kindly, and fostered unity in her pursuit of happiness.
She benefited from hand-up opportunities, but never
depended on handouts. She pursued happiness in true
American fashion — and certainly achieved it.
(excerpt from Resilient Nations, Chapter 7)
Yes, Doris Francois is an inspiring Profile in Resilience. May her example fortify us to pursue our calling from the Lord and experience true happiness which lasts into eternity.