A Service In Celebration of the Life of Leah Ruby Francis
The Baptist Church, Ettalong : 23rd April, 2003
Officiating Pastors : Rev. Darrell McKeough & Rev. Bob Hooper
Organist : Francine Meyers
Welcome : Leo
Opening remarks and prayers : Rev. Bob Hooper
Hymn : “Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah”
Euology : Andrew Francis
Poem : “Other Ways” by Leah Francis
read by Vanessa Bockholt
Tributes : from friends
Prayer of Thanksgiving : Rev. Darrell McKeough
Hymn : “The Lord Is My Shepherd”
Bible Reading : Matthew and Philip Francis
Address : Rev. Darrell McKeough
Hymn : “How Great Thou Art”
Leah Ruby Francis was born on 15th March 1933, in the Sydney suburb of
Newtown. Birth records show that her mother was Nellie Wilson, and her
father's name was Eric Brown.
Shortly after her birth she became a ward of the state. In October
1933, Leah was fostered by the Anforth family: Isobel (whom she called
"Aunt") and Isobel's parents, and Vic, and Jack...
The family owned and ran a fruit shop in Forest Road, Hurstville. The
children helped out in it from an early age. Leah lived with them from
October 1933 until she walked to the church to marry Leo when she was
At age 5, Leah was a weekly boarder at The NSW Institute for the Deaf,
the Dumb and the Blind, in Darlington, Sydney. Leah attended for one
year, before returning to playing in the street with the other kids.
The school was closed when she was six years old. The Airforce needed
Aged 8, her school re-opened as Wahroonga School for the Blind.
From age 16, until she finished school two years later, Leah attended
Hornsby Girls' High School. Here Leah formed lifelong frienships
– with Margaret Sharp, Pam Larsen, Barbera Telfer... It was a
real break into mainstream education.
After school, Leah gained a scholarship to Sydney Teachers' College
(located in the grounds of Sydney University). Leah was the first blind
student to attain a scholarship. There she met Marie Retallic during
her two years of study.
In 1954/55 Leah taught at Wahroonga School for the Blind. Roslyn Sloane, Marilyn Jones and Sandy Dark were amongst her students.
At 24, she won a Rotary International Scholarship. She taught at the
New York Institute for Education of the Blind, and studied teaching
methods in Nashville, USA. She travelled to Europe to observe more
schools and make her infamous visit to the Rose Garden in Salzberg.
Back in Australia she pushed for education reform, but the Education
Department marooned Leah as a proof-reader of braille books at Asquith
Primary School. She planned her escape, studying part-time for a
Bachelor of Arts at Sydney University.
Leah met Leo in 1964, in a location much under-estimated for its
romantic potential: across the enquiries counter of the Australian
They kept in contact, and attended night classes together at Sydney
University. They worked closely together during two year of Economics I
and II. Leo was pursuing an Economics degree; Leah was studying for
Arts Honours which she completed in 1969.
Leah and Leo were married 10th December 1966. They spent their first years together in Glebe.
Their children came pattering along: Andrew Justin was born 8 January
1970; Matthew David arrived 21 May 1971; and when Leah had just turned
40 she gave birth to Philip Mark on 25 April 1973.
The family moved to Albury in 1973. Leo went down to teach Accountancy at TAFE for three years of compulsory country service.
Leah arrived with newborn Phil in her arms and Cath Rumsey at her side.
They entered a house of light, complete with frog pond, fountain, and
1975-1977 were spent in the Solomon Islands with Australian Aid. Leo
taught commerce at Honiara Technical Institute; Leah taught a few
lessons at the teachers' college.
When she was 45, they returned to settle in Umina. Leah started to work
for the Child Development Unit at the Royal Blind Society at Burwood.
Joan Rowlands, the director, became a dear friend. Leah and Robyn
Wellington formed a firm friendship while commuting together from the
Central Coast. Leah worked there for over a decade.
Meanwhile Leah had become a music therapist, and a founding member of
the Australian Music Therapy Association. Lou Poulson was a co-founder.
In 1989 Leah joined the University of Western Sydney where she
co-ordinated the Vision course in the Special Education Department.
After another ten years of hard yakka Leah finally retired from Uni
life in March 1999, at the age of 65.
Leah would travel anywhere if the ticket was cheap, move house at the
drop of a hat, and knit pouches for baby possums. She was an
indominable supporter and participant at the National Braille Music
Camp for many many years.
In the new century, two groups of collegues and friends sought to have
Leah's significant contribution to the community recognised. In 2001,
Leah Ruby Francis was made a Member of the Order of Australia (A.M.).
by Leah Francis
How does it feel, they ask me,
never to have seen the children you have borne?
Never to exchange a smile with them
or watch them play?
How does it feel?
The minute each new baby was given me to hold,
with fingers moving slowly, and so gently,
I touched his every inch of smooth, new skin,
from toe to chest to scalp of sparce, fine hair.
I knew each muscle, wrinkle, spot and crease,
and felt the little puffs of warm, moist air
pushed through his tiny nostrils,
firm, round tummy rising with each breath.
I listened for his sucking, stirring, crying,
and knew the sounds that meant contentment, pain.
And as each baby grew, great joy and privilege were mine,
uniquely offered through our special love,
to touch, to caress, to cuddle him at will,
his body as familiar as my own.
Not seeing, touching brings its own reward.
Now he is six, my eldest tells me, "mum,
I'm far too big for you to cuddle me!"
Though I may pull his socks up, brush his hair,
all other tactile contact is taboo.
I enjoy his growing mind,
revealed through everything he does and says,
his choice of friends and books,
and his response to each new situation.
I revel in his growing strength and skills, his sharing in a world
beyond his home.
Of course I'd like to see the way they look, the way they move,
these children of my own.
But never having seen, I make full use
of all the other ways to know them and enjoy them.
How do I feel?
Their very being thrills me with delight.
You're getting old, you say, you want to die? why? Have you seen a
candle flickering in the night? Have you heard glorious melody, calling
your ears, your heart, your quivering body? Haven't you, an old,
warn, discarded tatter of a man felt the impelling challenge to take
up, absorb, respond with every feeling, thinking, moving, hearing
part of you the life that waits to be devoured.
Live, I say! Wake up and look today to all that cries out for you to take,
give, enjoy, vibrate!
Don't lay down and sleep. Wake up and move, and live, and love, and
use every part of you in celebration of the energy of loving
by Leah Francis
God, the earth is your creation
every creature, every stone,
every person, every nation,
All are made by You alone.
You give us reason to be thankful,
Reason to rejoice with you;
Much to learn, to love, to live for,
Much to see, to hear, to do.
And God you give us many problems,
Loneliness, defeat, despair;
Sometimes we fail and feel rejected,
no-one seems to know or care.
Keep us cheerful, faithful, prayerful,
Always aware that you are near;
Teach us to love,
And let us know
your perfect love which casts out fear.
by Leah Francis