Remembering Fran Burns

Fran Burns (third row, second from right) during her days at the Hudson Dispatch.

Fran Burns (1948-2017)

I loved to hear Fran’s stories.

We old newspaper ladies tend to ramble on about predatory politicians, clueless editors, catastrophic malfunctions in new-and-improved technology, but Fran put her own spin on her tales: her days at the Hudson “Disgrace,” from churning out obits to covering the Statehouse. Then at UPI, fielding the questions: “Does UPI still exist?” and “I thought they went out of business years ago?”

But she had earlier stories, too. Her college years at St. John’s College, the one in Annapolis, MD. It sounds like a place for late-night debates on God, politics, baseball, all the important things.

Fran spent some years as a cab driver and then as a self-described Trotskyite forklift operator, but she loved journalism which is best described as an addiction rather than a profession.

She became involved in the New Jersey Professional Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists, a high-falutin’ (and somewhat redundant) name for a group of like-minded ink-stained wretches. Even in this era of electronic wizardry, there are those of us who bask in the aroma of newsprint, thrive skating on the edge of a deadline, survive on a diet of caffeine and, in Fran’s case, nicotine and love every minute of it.

Fran was president of the motley crew in the early 2000s and remained on the board after her tenure at the helm. She was known for a series of freelance programs. She invited editor and freelancers to a panel discussion/speed dating/melee. Many of us got jobs or at least gigs out of those panels. Because Fran knew everyone, she was a great matchmaker.

Fran handled her illness like she handled everything else: with humor and spirit. She continued to work, editing for NJ Spotlight, as long as she could. She cracked jokes about how, after years of smoking, it wasn’t lung cancer that got her. She ventured to New York City in April to the SPJ Regional Conference and for a UPI reunion as well as to Maryland for a college event.

The last time I saw Fran was after an SPJ meeting in August. I ended up trading stories with her until much later than I thought I would, but she wasn’t slowing down or tiring at all. Surrounded by books and not a few journalism awards, Fran was as sharp and funny as ever. I’m glad I will be able to remember her that way.

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