AMORY – Jack Clifford Francis, affectionately known as Soap, passed away on Sept. 9 at Oak Tree Manor Assisted Living. The iconic Amory resident did not have the same distinction of being born at the Gilmore Sanitarium as many other local senior citizens did. Francis was born in Verona in 1925 and became an Amory citizen in time to begin his education in Amory’s schools. His father was a brakeman and conductor with the Frisco Railroad.
Francis played football for Amory while he was a high school student.
“I played back field. I was terrible,” he said in an earlier interview with the Monroe Journal.
Francis was also Amory High School’s first Rotary Boy of the Month and went on to become the local club’s first Paul Harris Fellow. During a time when ladies were not admitted to regular membership with the Rotary Club, Francis helped them out by putting together social events under the auspices of the club.
He was known as the Ultimate Rotarian and had more than 60 years of perfect attendance with the club.
“I had a good teacher in Mrs. Beacham, who was principal of Amory High School when I graduated with the class of ’42. She taught Latin, which probably is not offered at the high school level today,” Francis said during the interview.
The Francis’ home is also home to two stained glass windows that were originally part of the Beacham house.
He always knew he wanted to attend college at Mississippi State University and fulfilled his desire by earning both his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from there. He interrupted his college education with a tour of duty in the U.S. Army Air Corps, flying 35 missions over Europe late in World War II, including the Battle of the Bulge.
Francis recalled that communication was not nearly as regular during his time as a soldier as it is today.
“They called it V-mail. Mail during wartime was photographed and censored to ensure that no sensitive information would be leaked out to compromise national security. The bottom line was that there just wasn’t much communication in those days,” he previously said.
Francis was known among friends by his distinctive nickname, Soap. While the tag was actually a family nickname passed down from his uncle and father that denoted a clean-cut lifestyle, Francis took ownership of it when he ran for vice president of the MSU student body with the slogan, “Don’t be a dope; vote for Soap!” He was duly elected.
Francis returned to Amory from Lee County in 1954, where he began his business career by opening Francis Insurance in 1954. He married the love of his life, Mary Lib Barrett of Greenwood, two years later. They raised three children in Amory, the first of which was born at the original sanitarium.
The Francis’ expanded their business venture in 1965, becoming realtors and insurance agents. His professional capacities included serving as president of the Mississippi Mutual Insurance Agents Association.
One of the highlights of Francis’ years as an Amory businessman was bringing college classmate and comedian Jerry Clower to Amory as his guest to speak at a Chamber of Commerce banquet held at the Methodist church.
“We exchanged a lot of messages.” Francis previously said.
He was roasted twice by the business community. He recalled H.L. Robinson as chairing the first event and fun-loving Dr. Richard Hollis being in attendance the second time.
“You may be well-known but you also need to be a good sport,” he said of the roasts.