NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - With a chill gripping the air a momentous occasion took place next to Xavier University’s campus: a formal ceremony to mark the renaming of Jefferson Davis Parkway to Norman C. Francis Parkway.
Dr. Francis is a higher education icon who served as Xavier University’s President for nearly 50 years.
Francis spoke to FOX 8 following the event which attracted elected officials, members of the Xavier community, family members, friends, and others.
“It’s a great day and I’m amazed that people were so interested in it and I think it stood for so much for so many people and they wanted to be a part of it, too,” said Francis.
Francis retired in 2015 after taking the leadership helm at Xavier in 1968. He was the first layperson and African American to become the university’s president. Francis also attended the university before ascending to its highest position.
“I spent almost 60 years on this campus,” Francis said.
And he remained there even when he was in law school at Loyola University. But a Juris Doctorate aside, education had a strong hold on Francis’ heart.
During a 2008 interview with FOX 8, he reflected on how far the university had come.
“When I was a student there were only two permanent buildings,” Francis said.
During Francis’ long tenure as Xavier president, he not only increased enrollment but significantly expanded the university’s footprint, and after Hurricane Katrina he oversaw the university’s rebuilding.
Francis also led the Louisiana Recovery Authority, a state commission set up to oversee Louisiana’s rebuilding efforts post-Hurricane Katrina.
In 2006, Francis was awarded the nation’s highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, by then-President George W. Bush. And he hosted President Barack Obama at Xavier.
Yet, on a day when his hometown honored his legacy, Francis praised others.
“All of this what you heard was not all of my doing. I had the best faculty, staff, workers,” he said.
And he asked one thing of those who attended the ceremony.
“Next time you see someone walking, say you know you’re good enough to be a teacher. What? Yes, a teacher. The road to prosperity is education,” said Francis.
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