Fran Blackney, a passionate business advocate and innovator in youth business programs that she shepherded in recent years for local high school students, died Saturday.
Mrs. Blackney, the Clovis Chamber of Commerce communications and business and political advocacy director, died in her home of a sudden illness. She was 65.
Originally from Santa Rosa, Mrs. Blackney was a 1972 graduate of the University of California at Davis.
Mrs. Blackney’s husband, Mark, is the president and chief executive officer for the Clovis Chamber of Commerce, but Mrs. Blackney “was the backbone of the chamber,” said Don Watnick, a longtime former chamber director and retired Clovis business owner.
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Mrs. Blackney coordinated ClovisFest and Big Hat Days, the Clovis Chamber’s monthly mixers, business and trade show, Hooked on Books program for children and wrote much of the chamber’s newsletter.
“The community is going to find out that there is suddenly a big gap,” Watnick said. “She did so much behind the scenes.”
Some of Mrs. Blackney’s strongest advocacy efforts were in the Youth Entrepreneurial Academy, which assists high school students in acquiring business skills. Mrs. Blackney spearheaded the program, which is nationally recognized.
Rick Snow, vice president of Snow Flake Designs and an active participant in the youth program, said Mrs. Blackney became “a second mom” to the students.
National youth program officials said the Clovis Chamber’s entrepreneurial project was among the nation’s finest. Snow said she brought business leaders from the community to assist students in business planning. What Mrs. Blackney was most effective at, he said, was the way she could “steer the students” toward the correct answers, not lecture or direct them.
The community is going to find out that there is suddenly a big gap. She did so much behind the scenes.
Don Watnick, former chamber director and retired Clovis business owner
“She tried to make the kids think for themselves and come to their own conclusions,” Snow said.
Officials with the national office from Young Entrepreneurs Academy Inc. said Mrs. Blackney “personified the spirit of the YEA! mission, inspiring us every day.”
“Fran’s passion for inspiring students to pursue their dreams was a hallmark of her warm and energetic personality,” said Sara Moonan, director of community engagement for the Rochester, N.Y.-based organization. “Fran put her heart, soul and sense of humor into all of her students’ experiences. Fran loved nurturing her students’ self-confidence and helping them to discover their potential.”
Added Moonan: “Her impact on education in the Clovis community and student success is undeniable and will always be remembered.”
Mrs. Blackney’s advocacy also extended into politics, where she was regularly chiming in against overregulation of businesses and warning business owners of issues that may affect them.
“She was a very passionate person whose job was to defend the business community in Clovis and she took that job very seriously,” said Clovis City Council Member Jose Flores. “She was very American and very capitalist, a philosophy that went well with the job she was doing.”
Council Member Bob Whalen hailed Mrs. Blackney’s authoritative voice on issues affecting the community. She was able to communicate issues without resorting to “hyperbole or histrionics,” he said.
“She was a good friend and a real strong supporter of a lot of the issues we worked on in Clovis in order to make the city a better place for business owners and consumers,” he said. “It’s definitely a sad day.”
Francine “Fran” Blackney
Born: Feb. 14, 1950
Died: Nov. 7, 2015
Survivors: Husband, Mark; daughter Corinne Blackney and son Kevin Blackney.
Funeral service: 5 p.m. Saturday at Clovis Veterans Memorial District building, Fourth Street and Hughes Avenue in downtown Clovis.