Friends and colleagues remember Delma Francis for her love of journalism, bright smile, Kentuckian charm and passion for mentoring young reporters.
"The biggest thing [for Francis] was about accuracy and fair reporting, and making sure that there were opportunities for other Black journalists in the business," former mentee and lifelong friend Felecia Henderson said. "She was such a strong proponent of that, of making sure that diversity was reflected not only in content, but as well as in who was producing the news."
The former Star Tribune journalist, mother and beloved friend died Jan. 1 in New Hope after a brief illness. She was 68.
The Lancaster, Ky., native was a veteran journalist who spent years as a reporter and editor in multiple states, and as a mentor to young Black journalists.
Francis attended Eastern Kentucky University, where she was the first African American editor of the student newspaper. She later earned her master's in public administration from the University of Louisville.
Her career began at the Lexington (Ky.) Herald Leader, and she then spent 10years at the Courier-Journal/Louisville (Ky.) Times. She went on to the the Richmond (Va.) Times-Dispatch, where she made history in 1989 as the first person of color and woman to work as city editor, and then to the Hartford (Conn.) Courant. She joined the Star Tribune in the mid-1990s.
Marilyn Mapp, a former co-worker at the Courier-Journal/Louisville Times and a lifelong friend, said Francis was truly passionate about reporting and the journalism industry.
Mapp recalled that she and Francis once threw a fashion show to raise money for the local National Association of Black Journalists' (NABJ) chapter scholarship, raising $1,000. Francis later served as Region 8 director on the board of the national chapter.
"She was just a total nut about journalism, just like I was. She just loved writing, loved talking to people and she was always volunteering," Mapp said.
Henderson, of the Maynard Institute, met Francis in 1984 when Henderson was in her first journalism job as a clerk reporter at the Louisville Times. Francis was a reporter covering Louisville's west end, and took Henderson under her wing, teaching her how the newspaper worked and encouraging her to join NABJ.
"She really taught me the importance of Black journalists connecting with one another, supporting one another and creating a network amongst ourselves," Henderson said.
Their mentor-mentee relationship became a lifelong friendship. In fact, Francis knew Henderson's late husband, Angelo, before she did. He had been the recipient of the fashion show scholarship, which he used to attend the University of Kentucky, and Francis convinced Henderson that he was a good match for her.
Outside of work, Francis loved to travel, taking road trips and cruises, Mapp said. Mapp would joke that Francis was a Southern belle, her Kentucky roots ever present. Francis loved to cook and bake — a favorite dish was derby pie, a chocolate-chip pie typically served at the Kentucky Derby.
"She loved feeding people, having parties," Mapp said. "Delma always had to have a party and invite everyone she knew."
After 13 years as a reporter and editor at the Star Tribune, Francis took a buyout and pursued other industries but continued her work with NABJ, traveling to Mali to meet and work with journalists there.
She is survived by daughter Whitney of Minneapolis and brother Terry of Cincinnati. A virtual memorial service is planned, and an in-person memorial will be held after the pandemic has waned.