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Tributes paid to local reporter known affectionately as "Mrs Harefield"

Jo Francis, who died this week,  chronicled the daily life of Harefield village for more than a decade.

Former Harefield Gazette reporter Jo Francis, who died on October 21 2015.

Reporter Jo Francis, who chronicled the daily life of Harefield for more than a decade, has died.

Thanks to her infectious enthusiasm, infinite powers of persuasion and flair for finding a story, the Harefield Gazette became essential reading for anyone who cared about the village.

Jo’s path to journalism was convoluted – and it was her wealth of life and career experience that gave her writing its richness.

Born Josephine Thomas, she grew up on a farm in the remote hamlet of Lanivet, near Bodmin, Cornwall, and in 1956 joined Barclays Bank in Padstow. By 1958, managers had spotted Jo’s exceptional qualities, and she was selected to become a trainer, a promotion that brought her to London – and sealed her fate in the happiest of ways.

It was at a party thrown at her Hampstead flat that Jo would meet a handsome gatecrasher called Norman Francis, from Hayes. He was to be the love of her life. Jo and Norman married in April 1971, and the couple set up home in Denham. She left the bank to bring up daughters Amanda and Demelza.

When the girls were young Jo took a number of part-time jobs. She worked in women’s wear at Owen Owen, formerly Suters, in Uxbridge High Street .

In the 1980s she was secretary at Denham Village School, and set up a celebration cakes business at home. She wrote short stories and articles, often published, and it was this talent for writing that brought her into newspapers.

Jo and Gazette photographer Chris Berry were asked to take part in an episode of the childrens television programme Rosie and Jim which was filming nearby on the Grand Union Canal.

She became one of the Buckinghamshire Advertiser’s Village Voice correspondents and quickly impressed then group editor Richard Parsons with her sure-footed style.

When a reporting vacancy came up, he offered Jo the job. She later transferred to the Uxbridge Gazette, first as a general reporter, before being given responsibility for the fledgling Harefield edition.

Jo quickly put her highly individual stamp on the role, and became integral to village life. She was a familiar sight careering around its lanes in her bright red Citroen 2CV, always cutting a stylish dash.

Friend and former colleague Anthony Longden, said: “Jo was an exceptional reporter. She could talk to anyone and wrote beautifully – during her tenure there were few people in Harefield who didn’t know who she was, and entire events were planned around when she would be able to turn up to cover them.

“I remember some wag altered a black ice warning sign in Breakspear Road. Jo continued to write about that dangerous stretch as ‘Black Mice Hill’ – a name that stuck. She had immense style, charm and warmth – we won’t see her like again.”

Barbara Fisher, who was recruited to the Gazette alongside Jo, paid tribute in her Uxbridge Gazette column BM@il this week, telling readers: "Many of you, like me, will find it hard to grasp that such a live wire is no longer with us. I am particularly sorry that we didn’t meet up in later years, though we kept in touch and always intended to."

Jo Francis (front) and Barbara Fisher at Harefield Academy, having been invited to sample the school lunches.

Former Gazette news editor Alan Hayes added: "When I joined the Gazette in 1999 as a sub-editor, Jo's Village Voice column was a highlight of the production week and a real pleasure to read. You could 'lose yourself' in Jo's masterful storytelling without ever getting lost - she had a knack of tying up all the threads at the end. Jo was the consummate local newspaper reporter: approachable, sceptical, diligent and knowledgeable. Beyond that, she was a mate. She will be much missed."

And another former colleague, Chris Longhurst said: "I took over covering Harefield from Jo and am incredibly sad to hear that 'Mrs Harefield' - as I always called her - is gone. Jo was my mentor and the one who truly inspired me to get to the heart of village life and find out what mattered to the people who lived there, in the same way she did for so long. I like to think she was proud of how I followed in her footsteps. Harefield was lucky to have her and so was I."

Jo and husband Norman were tireless in raising money for St Mary’s Church, Denham Village, and often ran one of the stalls at the annual May Bank Holiday Denham Village Fair. They were prominent members of the Tilehouse School PTA, and helped run Denham Green Youth Club.

In 2004, following Jo’s retirement, she and Norman relocated to their beloved Boscastle in Cornwall where Jo was to indulge her passion for painting. She joined an art group and much of her work was exhibited.

Reporters assembled outside the Uxbridge building which was to be the Gazette's new home, after moving from Ruislip. Jo is the one in the gold coloured jacket at the front/left.

In 2012, the couple moved to Beaconsfield to be closer to their family, which now included much-loved son-in-law Neal and granddaughters Maisie and Lara.

Jo was diagnosed with liver cancer in 2014, but continued to paint, travel, garden and approach life with her usual gusto. She died on Wednesday, October 21, aged 77, her family by her side and a favourite CD playing.

She is survived by her husband, daughters and granddaughters.

A funeral service will be held at St Mary’s and All Saints Church, Beaconsfield, at noon on Monday, November 2. Charitable donations in memory of Josephine Francis should be made to Iain Rennie Hospice at Home, Rennie Grove Hospice Care www.renniegrove.org

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