a tribute to a dear friend

Over the holidays, Central Florida lost a dear friend, Frances Millican — the first First Lady of UCF. She was a devoted advocate of education and a tireless emblem for the university. When I arrived in Central Florida nine years ago, she took me under her wing, thanks to our mutual friendship with Helen Von Dolteren-Fournier.

Frances was the consummate fundraiser and offered me great insight. I was new to the community and also to fundraising, and I will always treasure her wise counsel. She never saw Valencia as a competitor but rather a collaborator, which also explains the amazing relationship between our institutions.

What I have heard over and over in the past few weeks about Frances is a true sentiment for me too: She made me feel like her most special buddy.

I believe she made everyone in her path feel uniquely close to her because she truly cared. She found the common ground and never forgot a name or a moment. She would never cease to amaze me with her personal gifts for hospitality and philanthropy. She embraced the causes she believed in and that belief and dedication was felt at every meeting with her.

The last time I saw her in November, she reminded me, with her very Southern gentility, that we had not been out for a private get-together recently — and that, clearly, we must remedy that! I looked forward to that future date, as I did to all the private chats and occasions we shared over the years.

It is said that behind every great man is a great woman. Certainly this was true of Frances and her devoted husband, Charlie. As his health began to fail, she stepped in to represent him even more so than before. She passed away because of a fall – she was helping Charlie, who had fallen as well. Loyal and loving, her immediate call was to a friend to request assistance for her husband.

 Charlie is the first one to tell you how instrumental Frances was during the founding of UCF, his tenure and their support ever since. If ever there were help mates, true partners together, Frances and Charlie fit the bill.

Valencia recognized her contributions to the advancement of learning in our community in April 2007. It was a meaningful, touching event that celebrated a two-plus-two scholarship named for Frances that connects students who graduate from Valencia and move on to attend UCF. About 80 percent of our AA grads do wind up at UCF, making our partnership the strongest two-plus-two relationship in the nation.

What cracked me up is that Frances always referred to us as neighbors and friends when she introduced me to other people. I was honored to be included in her circle of friends and yes, we did share a ZIP Code…but my corner of College Park and the neighborhood in which she and Charlie lived are a far cry from each other! But that was how she was. Frances saw commonalities in those she met, and I believe she did think of me as a neighbor and a friend. I suspect that was also a treasure she shared with every person she met: She appreciated you for who you were, and when Frances was talking to you (or about you) you felt like the most special person in the room and her closest pal.

Frances was exquisitely beautiful on the outside. The photos at her memorial showed this to be true. More importantly, though, she was even more gorgeous on the inside. Frances was one of those rare individuals who would remind you of shared memories — and remember names and details. When she was talking to you, you were the only person in the room – she never looked over your shoulder to see if someone more important was coming along.

What may not be widely known is that Frances was also a hoot! She enjoyed her friends, she was comfortable in her own skin and she appreciated the company of those both dear to her and new people, like me. She could be poised and perfect in a ceremonial role and just the best fun when she let her hair down. Although I knew her best through her public duties, I cherish those personal moments that brought amusement and laughter.

There just isn’t enough any of us, certainly not me, can say that would do Frances justice. Her husband and her friends did an amazing job at the memorial service and her sense of spirit and life was felt by all. But to truly know how lovely she was, you had to spend time with her. I treasure the time I had with her, although it was cut much too short. For those that knew Frances, I join with you in mourning the passing of our friend and colleague. And I am heartened by the fact that even those that didn’t know her will still feel her legacy. Her work on behalf of UCF, the important inroads she made in our partnership and the scholarship in her honor will continue to touch lives for years to come.

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