i.m. Fran Jenkin

Fran Jenkin – the Fran was short for ‘Franscilla’, something almost nobody knew, and which we’d laugh at sometimes – was an astonishing person. She died on Saturday, having survived for the last few months the way she had lived, by force of will. I’d known her since about 1975, when she came to Exeter to do an M.Ed, and wound up teaching at Exeter College, initially part-time, and soon full-time, taking on every petty establishment across which she came, always with good humour, and with a sense of what was politically right. It is easy to make fun of political correctness: the phrase has become almost a term of abuse. But Fran embodied it. She devoted almost every hour of her life to helping people – refugees, asylum-seekers, the overlooked and uncared-for – gain respect, gain recognition. All this was done with a generosity and ferocity of will which was not at odds, as it might have been, with her sunny disposition. She didn’t care what people thought of her at all. She had no need to. They knew she was as honest as the day, and they knew that, when it came to moral honesty, she was an inspiration.

She wasn’t a plaster saint. She liked to take risks – including marrying, in Cuba, one Christmas Day, a man much younger than her, and whom she spent the next few years battling to get to Exeter. That the marriage didn’t make it was beside the point. She wanted to try to find out if it could be made. She had that toughness.

Her teaching was as untouchable as it was unusual. Students in her groups were allowed to paint the rooms whatever colour they wanted. She had them writing and painting, with music playing, in Literature lessons. It looked like a hippy experiment. It wasn’t: it was a terrific piece of teaching because she held it together. If she was going to experiment, it was no holds barred. Her students – not for nothing was she the student liaision officer, campaigning tirelessly for their rights – worked with her, not against her. And so they succeeded. I watched her teach several times, and any initial worries that it was a high-wire act were soon dispelled. She never ran a session unless she knew why she was running it. She was a great teacher-trainer herself.

She was scrupulously fair, and would tell you quietly if she thought you weren’t. She was always right, and – unless she was up against a bully, whom she would outface with patience – she would make her point with good humour. The only time she took fairness too far was during the two years we shared an office. A pair of pigeons settled on some battered filing cabinets outside the door. They were soon breeding like pigeons, pecking our heads when we tried to go in or out, and the whole balcony became a sort of testament to her determination to let anything live. Even pigeons. (She was parodying herself brilliantly: she did not moan when, unmysteriously, the estates team moved in and got rid of them during a holiday.) In her thirties, she took up the cause of Exeter F.C., and this too started as self-parody, before it became a lovely obsession, and one she could combine with eradicating racism and sexism in football.

It is pretty easy to describe Fran in a way that makes her seem almost determinedly a patron of causes which looked as if they might be lost. But she wasn’t like that at all. She liked her vice: roll-ups; and enjoyed having her nose pierced when she was a grandmother. She was the best listener I’ve ever met, because she wouldn’t just listen, she would prompt and advise. She devoted herself to making sure that others were happy in their skins. She was a lovely, lovely person. And all this without ever taking the credit. She felt privileged – one of her favourite words – and she wanted to make sure no-one was underprivileged. She was integrity incarnate.

I’ve never met anyone like her: always there when you needed her, private when she wanted to be, implausibly ten years old than me, and with a nice look, lips pursed, head on one side, which said ‘Do you really mean that?’ She personified integrity. Hundreds of people, literally hundreds, will be thinking and saying the same. I love this photo of her, in 1987, with Art/English students who worshipped her every word: and I feel for her son, Laurence, whom she put first throughout her life.

Fran Jenkin

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25 Responses to i.m. Fran Jenkin

  1. elly says:

    I didn’t know Fran, but I enjoyed meeting her through what you wrote. And I like the photo too. Thanks.

  2. Bill

    Thank you so much

    • Carrie Russell says:

      Larry,

      I don’t know if you will remember me, I like to think you will. Where to begin? Still at school, that long ago. You and Louis the year above. Georgia and me walking home to see you. Waiting for you outside the SPCK book shop, outrageous times at Portland Street. Fat Freddie in the garage, preparing for your dad to come round. My first big love, wild and fun, hearts broken and all the time your mum watched on with love and knowing, never judging. So many times come flooding back to me.

      I bumped into Fran many years ago now at an Exeter Cathedral Garden Fete, she told me with such pride that you were a solicitor in Barnstaple, happily married with children.

      I know how much you loved her and how there for you she was and I feel your lose for you greatly. You were very blessed and I can only imagine that she was the best Grandma. My love and thoughts go out to you Carrie xxx

  3. Lizi and Mike says:

    Thanks for this. We knew Fran for a lot less time than you and it was lovely to read about her life. She will be sorely missed on the left in Exeter. She always gave her all in the fight against oppression and lived life to the full. Few people in her state of health would have taken themselves off to WOMAD as she did to be with her family. Typically we last saw her when we leafletted St James Park with her against the BNP in the run up to the General Election even though she was then very ill. The world is a smaller place without her.

  4. Bill, thank you so very much for this – I heard the sad news today. Reading your article put me straight back in the classroom during those wonderful years at Exeter College.

    To say Fran was an inspiration would be an understatement – I thought about her just last weekend when I was sorting through a bookcase and realised just how many authors she’d introduced me to.

    Not only that, but she’s also recommend (gay) authors she’d thought I’d be interested in despite (or maybe also in spite) of Thatcher’s vile Clause/Section 28.

    Few people are lucky to have someone so inspiration during their education – I was blessed at Exeter College with two powerhouses of inspiration in both Fran Jenkin & Anna Searle.

    Fran’s son Larry kindly also put me up for the night when I had my interview at Goldsmiths – where I ended up doing my degree – my thoughts are with him and all of Fran’s friends & family.

    Thanks again for your words

  5. Peter says:

    I was extremely saddened to learn of Fran Jenkin’s death.

    I got to know Fran in the mid-1980s first through political activities and then personally. At the time I was one of the leading promoters of Devon Labour Briefing, a left-leaning but independent group of people, who were attempting to shift Exeter Labour Party to the left. Most of us were just out of university and winning support outside the Pennsylvania and St. Davids branch was proving difficult. Fran, then an Exeter College Teacher of English, joined us readily, became an active supporter of Devon Labour Briefing and felt at home in our company. Her house in Portland Street, which she shared with several cats, became an unofficial meeting place for us all.

    Though her reputation established some years before in CND spared her from expulsion threats from the Labour Party, I still remember the battering she took at the General Management Committee meetings of Exeter Labour Party for her association with us. Animosity reached its height in 1987-88 when the Labour-led Exeter City Council sought to promote celebrations for the Tercentenary of the arrival in Brixton of king-to-be William of Orange. Fran, a passionate supporter of Irish nationalism, threw herself into the campaign to oppose the William of Orange celebrations.

    Opposition is never painless. Though the police generally left us alone, Fran awoke one morning to have a team of police officers search her house. Why or what they were looking for we never discovered; and she alone suffered this indignity, but she emerged from it as cheerful as ever.

    I felt particularly honoured when Fran turned to me to ask me to tutor her son, Larry, for his politics A-level. That led to a strange incident; one evening on returning home I found my metre-high poster of Karl Marx missing from the wall. My partner could offer no explanation and it remained a mystery until one day it was re-presented to me in a glass frame by Fran and her son. The framed photograph of Marx still hangs over my writing desk.

    Sadly from the end of the 1980s Fran and I had no contact and I know nothing of the last two decades of her life.

  6. Richard Billam says:

    Thank you Bill, I couldn’t agree more. You didn’t have to see her teach to know what a teacher and a friend she was, you only had to meet her students. She’ll be sorely missed.

    Richard Billam

  7. Emma Tallack says:

    I am very upset to hear the sad news about Fran. I met Fran eleven years ago when I was a mature student on the English Access course at Exeter College. She was a superb teacher, never stinting in providing help and support to everyone who attended her classes. She particularly helped me through a very difficult time and I remember fondly our weekly coffee hour at the Roughement Hotel. As Bill has already stated, she was a lovely, lovely person who was a huge inspiration. She will be sorely missed.

  8. Celia Bouquet says:

    Thankyou for this Bill. I have known Fran for nearly 30 years and cannot express the loss to my family.

  9. Jose says:

    What a beautiful words for a such a wonderful person! I just heard the news she passed away through a friend of mine who lives in Exeter. I cannot describe my sadness today.

    I am that man she married in Cuba and I appreciated you mentioned the story. We all have our differences sometimes in life but it is our understanding of those differences what make people special. I consider myself very lucky to have met someone like Fran who despite all differences was able to look at the past with pride and put behind all those differences between us. We continued being the friends we have always been since we met in Cuba in 1994 until she passed away. She did not only met myself in Cuba, she met a wonderful family who will always love her as the person she was and whom she kept in touch everytime possible. I will always be so greatful for all she did for my daughter, myself and my family in general. She risked herself, as you said and tried hard to keep me protected from the risk of living under a different culture, far from everything familiar to me. Everything she did she did it with love, care and determination. Maybe we could have done things differently but more important is to say sorry when things go wrong as we did. Differences not only come from our emotional feelings but in some cases from our cultural background. There you are Fran, such a wonderful person, your love did not have boundaries! No words can describe her but you have done it perfectly!!! My condolences to her family and friends, specially to her son Laurence and her grandchildren. Rest in Peace.

  10. Beverley says:

    Bill,
    I remember this photo being taken! It sums up Fran brilliantly and brought back so many memories of CLP.
    Fran was a huge inspiration who gave her time so readily and she will be very much missed.

    (Beverley Stone CLP 1987-89)

  11. Jon Carr says:

    Larry, you may not remember me (although we met again recently at a City match. I still have fond memories or times spend around Newtown when we were 15 or 16 and always remember being impressed by your mother’s passion for just causes. My sympathy goes out to you but from everything I’ve read you should be very proud that you had a mother who made a difference.

    Jon

  12. As with everything else that she did in her life Fran threw herself into the whole business of helping to bring some order, enjoyment and her unique persuasiveness to the “Kick it out” movement at Exeter City FC- or “One Voice One Community” as it has become. There was a minutes applause before the start of the first game of the season at SJP on Saturday, and even those who didn’t know her commented on the fans board subsequently how well the ‘eulogy’ and applause were embraced. As you intimate,Bill, she could “tell it like it was” when it was needed, and give help and support to a wide group of people, many of whom in knowing her for only a short time, felt that she had been a friend for years.A life lived fully!

  13. Mel Stiles says:

    I only got to know Fran in the last couple of years, through her work at RSG, and the domestic violence group. One memory that sticks out is when we were leafleting anti BNP leaflets in the High Street. The BNP had their stand opposite the UAF stand, Fran stood in front of their stand and turned people away with Hope not Hate leaflets. Fran’s tireless determination to support others will be greatly missed. RIP Fran and greatest condolences to family and friends. You have inspired me.

  14. jackie shead says:

    Dear Bill,
    Thanks for your thoughtful words about Fran. I can’t imagine life without her after all these years. Sorry I didn’t spot you at the funeral, though there was such a sea of faces it is not surprising.
    Jackie Shead

  15. Neil says:

    Dear Bill and all

    I was shocked to hear yesterday of Fran’s passing away.

    I first met Fran at about the time your photograph was taken. We met at the Exeter Labour Club when I was Secretary of the Young Socialists and Fran was doing some work for “Red Wedge”, a party initiative to engage young people and involving Billy Bragg. I think we got on pretty well as within a few weeks Fran invited me over for dinner. I don’t quite remember what it was, perhaps a shared interest in politics, perhaps a mutual passion for books, but we hit it off that evening and one thing led to another. Fran later told me that she admired my tenacity. I seem to remember that it was my telling her that you could read someone by their books, after inspecting her bedroom collection, that was the clincher. Whatever it was, we became lovers and I shared my life with Fran for two years. I suppose I would have been considered a “toy boy”, given the age difference, but if you had seen a photograph of me from this time, a bearded, pipe smoking and somewhat rotund real ale freak, this is not at all the impression you would have had.

    For a while things went well for us. We were happy and had a great time together, sharing a few adventures. To give an example, on one occasion we had travelled to Ireland, both the Six Counties and the Republic. Fran, of course, had strong connections to Ireland having studied in Dublin and taught in Derry during the start of the Troubles. She showed me many sights and I learned a lot about the politics and history of Ireland from her. On this particular trip we were also carrying out a number of interviews, as part of an educational campaign associated with the anti-Orange celebrations of 1988 (Tercentenary of William of Orange landing in 1688). This included an interview with Martin McGuinness in the Sinn Fein office on the Falls Road, just after a British Army Saracen had driven through the front wall. Although Fran was a passionate supported of the nationalist cause, she was not in the slightest sectarian and a number of her best friends in Ireland were Protestants. On this trip we stayed with her friend Florence. Unfortunately, one of the lodgers at Florence’s home was a young man who was an Orangeman. When asked about his politics he would tell you that he would vote for the “Fuck the Pope” candidate, a clear indication of his attitudes. (Curiously this bigoted young man was also gay.) When he found out what the purpose of our visit was he went ballistic and we were turned out onto the streets forthwith, much to the consternation of Florence. After the initial shock of this was over, however, I think we found a B&B nearby, we did have a good laugh about it. It is not very often that you meet a gay Orange bigot who supports Pope fucking! (No offence intended to the gay community).

    One other anecdote. Fran was famous for her cats. During my time at Portland Street there was one period where I think as many as three litters of kittens were produced. I don’t think that I have ever encountered, before or since, the sound of “herds” of kittens rushing about. You can imagine the sound of feeding time when all these and adults were meowing for their supper. The number of cats later became an issue and steps were taken to prevent this occurrence happening again.

    Sadly my relationship with Fran was to end in tears, mostly my own I think. It may have been the age difference, and almost certainly my relationship with alcohol was a factor. Also during the later part I was in the final stages of completing my doctoral thesis, so money became an issue. I believe that many a good relationship has foundered in the stormy waters and on the rocks which are among the hazards of a PhD. After I had moved out Fran was quite angry with me and things were difficult, but after any material issues had been settled Fran made it clear that she wanted to stay friends and remember the good things about our time together. A few years ago I found in my music manuscripts a letter from Fran with a poem she had written for me. I don’t remember seeing it when I moved out so I like to think that Fran had hidden it away in my papers for me to find one day. I thought that I would share it with you and the list as a way of remembering Fran. (One small passage is redacted, being a very intimate and personal).

    Maybe

    You will, I know, have remembered —-
    Cautious words on the ‘phone
    My door bravely approached —
    Opened to
    Hugs
    Wine
    Music
    Talk
    Bed
    Bodies touching.

    You will remember




    Tears to each other,
    And charming me
    with your music.

    Maybe you’ll remember
    The willow herbs and mallow
    Burnt toast,
    Spilt wine,
    Light on the Cathedral
    Stars that depress,
    Well timed buses,
    A bath & mornings’ bleariness,
    The public face & private knowing,
    Shared fears & histories —-
    (And N.A.T.O.)

    In these ways I remember
    And so now carry you with me.

    Maybe you’ll remember
    And have ways now
    Of carrying me with you too.

    Fran Jenkin, 48 Portland Street, Exeter, 1989.

    Fran, I am so sorry that I had missed the chance to say good bye. I will, of course, remember.

    Larry, so sorry for you mate. Hope to catch up some time for a beer and chat.

  16. Neil says:

    Dear Bill and all

    At risk of appearing indulgent, I cannot help but relate a further cat anecdote which came
    back to me after I had posted the last message.

    During the time when there were vast numbers of cats at Portland St one morning I was preparing to set off for a conference where I was scheduled to give an important talk. As I was about to leave I discovered to my horror that my box of overhead transparencies, which I had lovingly prepared over the preceding weeks, was drenched in cats piss. I immediately flew into a rage hurling expletives at the cats (but nothing physical I hasten to add). The cats made themselves scarce. Here was I about to present this lecture knowing that I had no choice but to take the piss sodden slides in my bag and face the prospect of the foul stench accompanying my every word at the conference. You can imagine what a poor impression this might give to delegates. Fran, who had witnessed this commotion, to my surprise, rather than show sympathy to my plight, was hysterical with laughter. After throwing her an angry glance I soon had to see the funny side of this episode and joined her in the laughter. As well as all her other qualities, Fran had a lovely, but sometimes mischievous, sense of humour. I will never forget the sound of her voice and laughter, which I can still hear now.

    Neil

  17. Jim Brown says:

    The last text I got from Fran was on 16 June. It was partly about being a grandparent and was characteristically chirpy. I knew there had been severe health problems in the last year or so, but I was still shocked and very sad to read in today’s Guardian that she has died.

    Fran was living at no. 1 Asylum Road in Derry with her baby Laurence when I got to know her. She was a loving parent and already a committed teacher. With her enthusiasm and sense of fun she was great company. When the civil rights movement started (at that time the demonstrations were mainly about jobs and houses rather than nationalism), her commitment and courage made a big impression on me.

    She had moved and was living in Truro when my wife and I made a first trip there. She was very kind to us. Later we lost touch, but were back in contact for the last few years. I last saw her when she made a visit to Scotland in 2006. Since then we exchanged texts from time to time.

    I found this site today and the messages posted here tell me a lot about how her life has been. My condolences go to her friends and especially to her family.

    Jim Brown

  18. Ben Ballin says:

    I also remember Fran well, as a sane voice during the heady times of the 80s: the campaigns against the orange march in Exeter, the anti fascist leafletting, the peace movement, and most of all the ever-busy house in Portland Street [which is where I picture her most vividly]. Although out of touch for some years, I was very sorry to hear the news of her death, and would like to offer my kindest thoughts to all her friends and family … and my delight that so many touching tributes have been paid to this remarkable woman.

    Ben Ballin

  19. Neil says:

    Dear Jim

    I don’t know if we ever met. I certainly visited Derry with Fran on at least one occasion and I’m sure she would have showed me Asylum Road. Your posting brought to mind an earlier episode in Fran’s life which she had recalled to me during our travels in Ireland.

    Prior to moving to Derry, she had been an undergraduate student in Dublin studying English Literature, I believe at Trinity College Dublin. (For those not familiar, TCD is the traditionally Anglican university, whereas the Catholic university is University College Dublin (UCD).) During her studies it had become apparent to Fran and some of her fellow students that a great injustice was being perpetrated by the College Library. The works of many Irish writers and poets had been appropriated as “English” literature under the library’s classification system. One evening Fran and a small band of comrades arranged to have themselves locked into the library, of course without drawing the attention of whatever security systems were in place then. During the course of the night, over a period of some hours, they systematically rearranged the literature section of the library, correctly classifying the Irish writers, and thereby bringing about a rectification of the injustice.

    It is doubtful if this direct action on this occasion had led to any permanent change in the University’s policy, but you can be sure that Fran and friends would have been in fits of laughter thinking about the consternation of the library administrators. It was certainly a source of great amusement and pride some years later. Fran’s characteristic radicalism, fearlessness and sense of injustice, combined with a great sense of fun, mischief and humour, which she brought to the early civil rights campaigns, and to later campaigns, was clearly well-developed from an early age.

    Neil

  20. Morwenna Griffiths says:

    I have shivers as I write this, having just read that my A-level English Teacher, no, that’s too formal – one of the biggest creative influences in my life, Fran Jenkins has passed away.

    We were texting each other a few days before she passed. She was in hospital at the time and said she’d be out in a week. When a week later I received no reply, I must confess that I just felt something like this had happened, but I could find no confirmation.

    Well this morning Fran was on my mind again, and so I sent another text. For some reason I then typed in her name on google and discovered the sad news. I feel heart broken.

    Fran to me was a magical lady. Not only a teacher, but also a friend. She encouraged me to take my poetry to new depths and it was because of her that I then went on to study english at uni. I feel privelegd to have known her and am only sorry that I didn’t get to take her out for that ‘catch-up’ coffee.

    But I’d like to think that she got my text anyway.

    Fran, thank you for changing my life, for opening my eyes to the beauty of life all around.

    Love Morwenna xx

  21. Tony Plato says:

    I was an old friend of Fran’s and helped make her a country garden in the middle of the city. She called me over to look at it in july and booked me to come and sort it out in September. Bill, your description of Fran is spot on. Fran will be missed terribly, and her tenacious principled actions have made a huge difference to the world.

  22. Lesley Bond says:

    Fran taught me English at school in Derry in the sixties. She was a wonderful, inspirational teacher, full of warmth and passion for her subject. She treated me like an equal rather than a student and told me that she felt privileged when I once asked if I could talk to her about life in general. She invited me into her home which she shared with Laurence, then a young boy, and introduced me to the works of Thomas Hardy, lending me books from her own collection.
    Once we went for a drink in a pub “over the border” in Donegal, to discuss, life, literature and who knows what. After bringing us our drinks, the barman embarrassedly told us they had a policy of not serving women unaccompanied by men. We were shocked of course, but drank up and departed peaceably.
    After she left and came back to England I visited her at her mother’s home in Upminster and we went to the theatre together. What always struck me was the respect she showed through the time she gave, and the way she saw me as an individual.
    I last saw her many years ago when I visited her in Portland Street and we caught up with each other’s news. We exchanged Christmas cards every year since I left school in 1970 and she proudly kept me up to date on Laurence’s career and the arrival of grandchildren. I was worried when I heard of her illness in her card of 2009 but not wanting to believe she wouldn’t pull through, I missed seeing her for a last time. It was a great privilege to have had Fran as a teacher, friend, mentor,and guide at such a formative period in my life and I shall always be grateful.

  23. ChloeSitaMaria says:

    It would come as no surprise to Fran to read that I only just learned of her passing having read your tender words.
    I felt Fran -and feel the memory of her to be`also – as a friendly clew throughout this world.
    Fran was guided by Love. I’m so grateful to have met her.
    Shine on! xxx

  24. anneau vibrant…

    […]i.m. Fran Jenkin « Bill Posters[…]…

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