With great sadness, over the weekend we received the news that the former director of the Henley office in South Africa, Fran Connaway, has died of pancreatic cancer. Fran had been ill for some years, and to those who knew her it is perhaps little surprise that she had defied the prognosis of a few months to live that was given to her by the doctors at the beginning. Fran being Fran, she found a way not just to exceed that prediction but benefit from various sorts of ground-breaking treatments that, while they may not have restored her to a very active lifestyle, at least made sure that no-one should forget that she was still around.
Fran was a founder member of the group that set up shop for Henley in South Africa (long before I joined the College), and was its heart as well as much of its character up until her illness. I first met her at Henley a day after I had been appointed to my job in 2005, about a month or so before I was officially to begin, at a clan gathering of the somewhat eclectic bunch of international partners and subsidiaries that the school then maintained. It was clear that she was a force of nature, a whirlwind of opinions (often forcefully put), ideas and a collector of ribald anecdotes. She also had an encyclopedic knowledge of who was who and what was what in the education and business sector in South Africa, and I think she saw the wonderful potential in the place as being worth the constant hassles and worries. Above all, she was dedicated to the success of the students; and woe-betide anyone who stood between them and their learning! She was particularly fond of taking aim at bureaucracy and nincompoops.
I’d say that Fran was utterly loyal to those she thought competent or like-minded, and completely dismissive of those she felt were in it for their own ego or simply just not up to the job; with Fran there were no half-measures. She didn’t suffer fools gladly, and was often right not to, but she had a big, big heart. She also loved to gossip, and always wanted to know the latest from the UK, and she made going down to Johannesburg a pleasure not a chore. I still recall on my first visit out there that she insisted on driving me (she drove like a southern-European in a hurry, and tended to talk non-stop while doing so, with ideas and opinions bursting out to the surface all the time) to a craft market to pick out some small souvenirs and gifts for my family.
It won’t be possible to replace her, but the good news is that the school she set the foundation for is now really blossoming into a major player in the market under the leadership of Jon Foster-Pedley and Frempong Acheampong, and the continued guidance of Vivien Spong, who was also Fran’s “right-hand” for many years.