The Drake University School of Journalism and Mass Communication mourned the loss of a legend, a warrior and a worker in the death of former professor William “Bill” Francois. He died on Sept. 16 at the Senior Suites of Urbandale nursing home. He was 87.
His 15-year career at Drake was characterized by fervent defense of the First Amendment, relentless dedication to student media and an unwavering desire to enrich the lives of his students through his specialties: media law and libel. Students and faculty alike remember the tough-as-nails professor who taught his classes with passion, rigor and tirelessness, with teary-eyed students in his office just a part of Francois’ legacy.
One of those students was Kathleen Richardson, the director of Drake’s journalism program and a 1977 graduate of the school’s news/editorial sequence. She said his fierce approach to journalism radiates in her own teaching style today. Richardson, who teaches the very class on media law and ethics that Francois taught, said she often asks herself, “what would Professor Francois do in this situation?”
“He was very tough,” Richardson said. “He was not a pushover.”
Francois taught both introductory and upper-level journalism students at Drake as an instructor of J30, communications in society, and J54, reporting and writing principles.
“He was known as a tough, but fair teacher,” Richardson said. “He was an internationally known scholar of media law.”
Richardson added that Francois wrote the textbook on libel that was used in media law courses at Drake for many years.
Also a paratrooper during World War II, Francois fought a different battle at Drake during his teaching career, which spanned from 1969-1984. He supported students’ First Amendment rights as an instructor and as the advisor for The Times-Delphic, and he defended their decisions when faced with ethical dilemmas.
“He was a staunch advocate for the First Amendment and a fierce defender of student media at Drake, and for that we will be forever grateful,” Richardson said. “He would be there fighting for the rights of the student journalists.”
Richardson described Francois’ presence in the classroom as “intimidating yet passionate.” She also said he was always plugged into the local journalism community even following his retirement in 1984. He also left the position with the prestigious title as “professor emeritus.”
John Lytle, professor of journalism electronic media, had the opportunity to work alongside the media law legend while Francois piloted the news/editorial sequence, which is now called the news/internet sequence.
“We all considered him to be tireless, unflagging, totally committed to hard work, to the First Amendment,” Lytle said.
Lytle added that Francois was “a task master.” He said he was notorious for often having someone crying in his office, with the tears usually resulting from the difficult, demanding nature of his media law and ethics course.
“He suffered fools not at all, very demanding of himself and of others,” Lytle said.
A man defined by his incredible work ethic, Francois lived his life in the fast lane. Starting traditions well beyond the classroom, Francois is credited with starting a faculty golf outing that took place on Dead Day every spring semester, a ritual that continued long after his retirement.
“He played golf like he did everything else,” Lytle said. “He got mad at the ball.”
He added that Francois continued to play golf well into his later years.
“He was just such a worker,” Lytel said. “He never had leisure time. He moved quickly. He spoke quickly. He was a newspaper man.”
As Drake faculty, former students and media ethics scholars alike remember Francois, his passion and persistence are sure to permeate the School of Journalism and Mass Communications for decades to come.
“It was his professional life as well as his passion as a former journalist that makes him a journalism icon and a Drake icon today,” Richardson said.