Mr. Charlottesville, Francis Fife

Some of us thought Francis Fife would beat the odds–the mortality odds. He seemed like the one who could go on forever, with his wry wit, his sparkly eyes, his economy of movement and the great swarm of humanity that was always glad to see him.

Of course he couldn’t beat those odds, and last week we had to say goodbye.  Francis meant so much to Piedmont Housing Alliance.  He was a progenitor, having founded Charlottesville Housing Foundation in the 1960s, which gave birth to the Charlottesville Housing Improvement Program (CHIP), which in turn gave birth to AHIP.  In 1983, CHF and the Thomas Jefferson Housing Improvement Corporation (TJ”Hic”) merged to form Piedmont Housing Alliance.  Francis was on the board until his retirement in 2014.  He was always prepared, always took his responsibilities seriously and asked the sometimes hard questions that need to be asked by board members.

Everyone has their Francis Fife stories.  My story came when I lobbied for naming a street in his honor in the Habitat development located in the Fifeville neighborhood (yes, named after his family.)  When he came to the celebration of the neighborhood, Francis took me aside, and said he had heard that I bore some responsibility for the naming of the street.  “I just don’t want to see it showing up in the police blotter each week,” he joked.

At the time, I laughed it off but as I thought about it yesterday, the comment took on a deeper meaning.  To me it meant that he knew the importance that affordable housing played in people’s lives.  But he also knew that more was needed for many of our low income residents–opportunity, training, mentoring, and guidance–so that they could avoid the school to prison pipeline that swallows up too many of them.

He reminded me, as he reminded all of us in his long and productive life, that there is plenty of work to do here in Charlottesville to make it a fair and just community.  Let’s get to it, just like Francis did.–Katie Kellett