On February 20, 1930, Francis Martin Sibley was born to Alfred and Perla Sibley in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. The couple had two more children, a son named David in 1934 and a son named George in 1939. All three boys showed early talent in music, which was to be a main part of their lives.
In 1947, Francis graduated from Adairsville High School in Adairsville, Georgia. His father Alfred was the school principal and basketball coach, and Francis was a star basketball player. He went on to North Georgia College in Dahlonega, Georgia, as part of the Reserve Officer Training Corps. While in college, Francis continued playing both music and basketball.
Upon graduation with a degree in English Literature in 1953, Francis was commissioned a second lieutenant in the United States Army. He attended Infantry Officer School at Fort Benning, Georgia, and then shipped out for Korea. While in Korea, Francis was in a vehicle accident that broke his leg. After convalescing in Japan, Francis returned to duty in the U.S. at Fort McPherson in Georgia. Although his injury prevented him from playing basketball himself, he became the coach of the post basketball team. Using principles he learned from his father, plus his own leadership, he reversed the team’s losing record and led them to an undefeated season. He was discharged from the Army in 1955 in the grade of first lieutenant.
After his Army service, Francis enrolled in Alabama Polytechnic Institute, now called Auburn University. At Auburn, he played bass in the Auburn Knights, a college big band that is still operating today. He was the band’s business manager, a role he was to reprise later in life with his own band. Brothers David and George both followed Francis to Auburn and both played bass with the Auburn Knights.
While at Auburn, Francis met Lucy Ann Roy. The two were married in 1956.
Francis graduated from Auburn with a bachelor’s degree in Music in 1957. Francis and Lucy moved to Baton Rouge, Louisiana, where Francis was a graduate teaching assistant in the English Department. He supplemented the family income by playing bass with various jazz groups in town. During this period, he appeared as a bass player in a scene in the film, “The Long Hot Summer,” which was shot in Louisiana. In 1961, Francis and Lucy had their first child, Kenneth. That year Francis also finished his Master’s Degree in English, after which he obtained a position teaching English at Fresno State College, in Fresno, California.
In Fresno, Francis continued working as a professional musician in addition to his teaching duties. The family lived in Fresno until 1967, when Francis obtained a position at the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma, Washington. In Tacoma, Francis was able to bring major literary figures to speak at the university, most significantly the British literary critic and philosopher I.A. Richards. Francis would later complete his doctoral dissertation on Richards, who became a personal friend. It was largely due to this work that Francis appeared in Who’s Who in American Scholars. Also during this time, Francis engaged in civil rights activism, before his move in 1969 to Park College in Parkville, Missouri.
Shortly after their arrival in Parkville, Francis and Lucy had their second child, Sarah. Their third child, Matthew, was born in 1971. During his time at Park College, Francis completed his doctorate degree in English with Louisiana State University, successfully defending his dissertation and receiving his degree in 1970. He also played tuba in the Faculty Brass Quintet. He was elected President of the Faculty Association, and continued his work bringing major figures to speak. Among those were poets Philip Levine and Peter Everwine, and the civil rights activist Dick Gregory. During this period, Lucy was working on her own doctorate. The family spent the summers of 1973 and 1974 in Columbia, Missouri, where Lucy took classes. Francis then obtained a sabbatical from Park College so that Lucy could complete her required year in residence at the University of Missouri. The family spent the 1975-1976 school year in Columbia.
After the family returned to Parkville, Park College went through a change of ownership. The new Board of Trustees terminated the teaching contracts of a substantial portion of the faculty. Francis was among those affected. He immediately found employment at St. Mary College as a grant writer, at which he maintained an unequalled 100% success rate. He continued working for many years in temporary teaching jobs, but did not limit himself to the academic world. At one point, he even drove a truck for the Salvation Army. By 1980, Lucy had finished her doctorate. The couple decided to shift their focus from his career to hers. Francis was to accompany her thereafter, as she enjoyed success in the academic world. Her first position was with the University of Georgia in Athens, Georgia.
In 1984, the family moved again, this time to Columbus, Ohio, where Lucy found a position with the Ohio State University. During this period, Francis worked at Urbana College, making the drive to Urbana, Ohio. He also joined the Central Ohio Freeflight Club, a group of model airplane enthusiasts. Francis had built and flown model airplanes as a boy, and always kept up the hobby. Lucy eventually became Chair of the Department of Textiles and Clothing. Her death from heart failure in 1994 left Francis and all three children in anguish. However, their lives turned around when Francis encountered a classmate from Adairsville High School at a class reunion. In 1996, Francis married Dorothy Hubbard, whose own husband had died in 1995. Francis and Dorothy had been high school sweethearts.
For the next 23 years, Francis and Dorothy lived happily in Columbus. Dorothy, who had never had children with her first husband, became a “bonus Mom” to Kenneth, Sarah, and Matthew. Sarah lived nearby with her husband and children, and the brothers visited every chance they could. Francis devoted his time to the Buckeye Ballroom Band, a big band originally established to play at the 1996 Republican National Convention. Francis took on leadership of the band in 1997. He arranged music, prepared all the charts, and wrote his own compositions. For the next 19 years, Francis continued leading the Buckeye Ballroom Band, which played all across Central Ohio. In 2016, Francis retired from the band.
In early June, 2019, after appearing dehydrated and suffering minor stomach pain, Francis was diagnosed with terminal cancer of the pancreas. On discovery, the disease had already progressed to Stage IV. Francis died three days after his diagnosis was confirmed. He was under hospice care at his own home. He was able to speak with all his family before he slipped into his last sleep. His calm courage in facing his final illness matched the courage he brought to his entire life.
Francis is survived by his wife Dorothy, daughter Sarah, sons Kenneth and Matthew, brother George, and four grandchildren.
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