The Right Stuff: Ray Francis
On a chilly spring evening last year, Ray Francis again rested in his own bed, all comfy and warm. Our brother and friend was gravely ill. For decades he had tirelessly devoted himself to leading addicts to recovery through God. Along the way Ray became a veritable human institution at CORE. On that night he was visibly fading. The initial cancer diagnosis hadn’t phased him, but that was months ago. In the last few days he’d taken a turn for the worse. Only moments earlier his wife Judy thanked the hospice nurses and CORE people for their help and bid them goodbye. She walked through their quiet home to his room and peered through the doorway. “Hi Baby, how are you doing?” she asked softly. They’d been together for his entire sober life, over 38 years. Ray simply smiled and relaxed back into his bed. He was fearless as always. She went to him and sat holding his hand until he fell asleep. Her son Michael arrived to help keep watch. And so it happened – Ray Francis, with his beloved wife and stepson at his side, passed in the early morning hours of April 14, 2020.
Knowing the man, his faith in God, and his legacy, we at CORE might imagine the next words Ray heard were something like: Well done, my good and faithful servant! Come share in the joy of your Lord!
It’s hard to explain to somebody not familiar with recovery the lasting bonds that form during the life and death battle against addiction. Ray means so much to so many. Over a year later his presence still lives on in hearts and minds at CORE. For we who had the privilege of knowing Ray, he’s much more than simply an old-timer with decades of recovery. He was our brother, friend, advisor, and colleague. His impact is felt at all levels of our organization even today.
It was Ray who showed our CEO Cary McKee, then a twenty-something client in rehab, the way to recover from a hopeless condition of mind and body:
I was 28-years old [before] somebody finally showed me the cycle of addiction. Ray went through the cycle with me in that treatment center – I could tell you where I was sitting if I walked in there today. And I saw it. Then he walked me through the steps and showed me what I needed to do. That was a good moment for me. So that’s obviously the first thing I think of with Ray, who showed me the way out. He showed me who and what I truly am apart from God.
As CORE’s intake coordinator, Ray acted as the de facto face of our program. He was the one who clients first talked to on the phone, met with upon first arrival, and saw during their first orientation class. Because of his office location, he also was the first staff member who clients saw upon entering our Branson recovery center. Clients stopped by daily to say hello and chat, ask questions about the 12 Steps, and seek advice about personal matters. “He always had time to work with an alcoholic or an addict – always,” Program Manager Kevin Hunt tells us, “it didn’t matter if his work was piled up higher than he was. He always had time.”
Ray’s participation in 5th Steps is legendary. It’s the step where we admit “to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.” In southwest Missouri, that human being was often Ray; he helped thousands with it. Anybody who’s been around here for awhile remembers his familiar Fifth Step in Session sign hanging on classroom doors. People sought him out, first, because of his reputation for trustworthiness. “They knew they’d never have to worry about hearing their 5th Step stuff out and about,” Kevin recalls, “a lot of people worked the steps with Ray.” They found Ray even when they weren’t in our program, from places as far away as St. Louis. Second, they asked for Ray because he’d really been there. He lived fast and furious too before turning his will and life over to the care of God. Nothing surprised Ray. He was kind, understanding, and he loved you with all his heart.
Loving you meant that Ray could be direct, too. He had a sharp mind and knew his stuff. Operations Manager Gary Osborne tells us, “If you wanted the answer, he was the person to go to. If you wanted the easier, softer, gentler way, don’t go to see Ray. Because you weren’t getting that.” Ray was honest but never condescending. He spoke to people where they are and never diminished them. He was Gary’s sponsor for sixteen years. Ray didn’t have a mean bone in his body, either. If somebody disappointed or hurt him, he never had a bad word to say. Above all, he worked the Steps. “I always want to be able to conduct myself that way,” Gary says, “to hold myself to Ray’s standards.”
Ray had an ineffable ability to live in the moment so that people who approached him felt important. Every moment with him seemed self-contained. He was passionate about conveying the 12 Step message. Our accountant Janet Weaver, for example, vividly remembers her conversations with Ray before she ever became a client. It was sixteen years ago, and CORE had only three houses. “They were all mens houses,” she recalls, “but I heard they might turn one of them into a women’s house, so I started calling them every day and talked to Ray.” He kept their conversations focused on Janet’s recovery. Over the course of two weeks, Ray took Janet through the first three Steps and also had her writing on her 4th Step – all while on the telephone. Even better, Ray helped make CORE into a fully co-ed program and invited Janet to be our first female client. Today, CORE has seven residential facilities for women. We have women managing our houses, counseling clients, leading prayer, and teaching recovery classes, too.
Above all, those of us who know Ray remember his devotion to God and prayer. He created Monday Morning Prayer for our recovery centers, as an example, a fact recently brought to our attention by HR Manager Tami McKinney. Tami remembers him as a man of God whose unshakeable faith led him to always put the needs of others before himself. “He was ready at the drop of a hat to help, to stop and help anyone,” she says, “he was always ‘others first.’” In discussions about spiritual matters, he had relevant scriptures to offer and would recommend specific books and articles for further study. He was a consummate advocate for committing ourselves to a spiritual life and letting God demonstrate through us what He can do.
Like so many of us, the way in which Ray came to be involved in CORE may seem fortuitous, at first blush. He goes way back, all the way to the beginning. Twenty-six years ago he and Judy arrived from the State of Washington to attend her son’s college graduation. Whereupon, a young missionary preacher, Tim Schuer, came knocking at the door about starting a “cell church.” Tim had been brought from Australia to America to do God’s work and was sponsored by four Christian families in Branson. Judy remembers that Ray and Tim became friends immediately, and Ray very much wanted to stay and be involved in the fledgling ministry:
So Tim became a mentor to Ray in the faith. We went to Tim’s house church for awhile. Then Tim wanted to do more outreach, so the Lord took it to ministering to alcoholics and addicts. That’s when Ray really caught fire.
This is Judy’s way of saying that God works in mysterious ways. In fact, Ray and Judy were the first members of Tim’s cell church. It’s worth wondering what would have happened, or not happened, had Tim not knocked on their door when he did. Jan Blase, who was among the four Christian families in Branson mentioned above, who still later became CORE’s Director of Development, helped Ray write a grant proposal for our first recovery house. CORE wasn’t the sprawling program that it is today. Those were simpler times – the entire program fit into one office in a church basement. Ray was blessed to see his passion and efforts grow into two CORE recovery centers, nineteen residential facilities, and two ReStores, all serving hundreds of people annually from Taney, Stone and Greene Counties, and beyond. He also watched thousands of clients find God and recovery, some of whom eventually went on to be counted among CORE’s senior staff members.
We think God put Ray in the right place at the right time. He had the right stuff. Through his words and personal example, Ray Francis stirred our hearts and minds. Some of us owe our lives to him. He wasn’t about public praise, however. He didn’t love the world or the things of this world. To him, these were superficial things. The things Ray was about, and taught us, were deep and enduring. By showing what a few simple steps and unswerving reliance upon God can do, he left us better knowing him. He made the world a better place. “He dedicated his whole being, his whole life, to recovery services, to the addict and to the alcoholic,” Cary tells us. In devoting himself to this service, he also helped to build CORE. Judy tells us “His legacy is all of you. He had faith that the people in CORE will pass it on to others, that they can become your legacy too.”