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Mark Conroy Remembers Rick Francis


I had the good fortune of meeting Rick Francis when I was a young athletic director and coach at a junior boarding school in Connecticut in the late 80s. Rick and I served together on an athletic planning committee for a New England teachers conference, and his warmth, personality, and generosity of spirit made an immediate impact on me. I learned early on that, in the NEPSAC athletic director world, Rick Francis commanded tremendous respect from his peers as someone who was not only a sage voice of experience but a mentor to so many because he modeled integrity and collegiality.

I also learned that Rick and I had a great deal in common as former college athletes who shared a great love for athletics in general and coaching football in particular! As a football coach, Rick was never one to rest on his laurels and was always looking for innovative ways to get an edge over his competition. In my experience, he was one of the few prep head coaches who actively looked for prospective players—reaching out to me and other junior coaches on a regular basis to inquire about possible candidates for Williston. Not surprisingly, a number of my boys went on to play for Coach Francis. This gave me another window into Rick as a coach and mentor. To a person, my former players had tremendous experiences playing for him. His teams were always exceptionally well coached. At the root of his success was his ability to connect with the boys who played for him on a personal level. He used this platform to impact the lives of his players long after they had the great privilege of playing for him.

As we all know well, athletics are a very visible part of boarding school life. More often than not, our impressions of peer schools are formed through the athletic lens as we host and visit peer schools literally hundreds of times in any given school year. For me, Williston always stood out as a school that not only had competitive, well-coached teams, but also seemed to have a warm and welcoming, authentic school community. Lessons around sportsmanship were at the core of Coach Francis’ leadership as both a coach and athletic director.

Stepping into Rick Francis’ sizeable shoes in 2000 was a tremendous privilege and a responsibility. From everything that I have learned about Rick’s predecessor Dale Lash (Williston’s Athletic Director from 1942 to 1967), I am certain that Rick inherited the same sense of responsibility when he became Athletic Director in 1967. Competing with great sportsmanship and representing Williston with class had been a priority of Coach Lash’s tenure. I feel strongly that the legacy of Williston athletics, as it is for the Williston community, is that sports are used not only as a powerful platform to teach life skills but also as a reflection of what Williston values as a school community. There is no question in my mind that Rick Francis not only embodied all that is good in athletics, but also built on this legacy during his long, distinguished tenure.

— Mark Conroy