Clovis has lost one of its most prominent and passionate supporters. Fran Blackney, Clovis Chamber of Commerce’s longtime communications director who also spearheaded the Chamber’s Young Entrepreneurs Academy, passed away unexpectedly on Nov. 7. She was 65.
Colleagues and family members remembered her as a passionate businesswoman who wore many hats. In addition to her work in communications and with the YEA! program, Blackney was a tireless business and legislative advocate and event coordinator.
Born in Santa Rosa, Blackney graduated from U.C. Davis in 1972 and held jobs in a variety of industries before becoming the public face of the Chamber in 2002. Not long afterward, her husband Mark joined the Chamber as its president and CEO.
Mark said his wife was passionate about her job, noting she often woke him in the middle of the night to discuss work business or a new idea.
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“We’ve been here (in Clovis) only 26 years,” he said, “but she was recognized as a person to go to in Clovis.”
He recalled how proud she was to have worked with prominent local and state politicians, including Jim Patterson, Devin Nunes, George Radanovich and former Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.
“(U.S. Representative) George Radanovich once called her from the House floor for her opinion, which reflected the opinion of the Chamber,” said Mark. “She had a lot of friends in different places.”
“She was the Chamber’s biggest advocate,” added membership director Diana Hunnicutt.
Blackney’s duties included writing the Chamber newsletter, working with vendors to put on events like Big Hat Days and ClovisFest and promoting those events in local media.
Among her many accomplishments, perhaps the one closest to her heart, said her family, was her involvement with the Young Entrepreneurs Academy. The Rochester, New York-based program trains middle and high school students to develop their own businesses. Students in the program also develop writing proficiency, business and financial literacy and public speaking skills. Clovis was the first city in California to be chosen to participate in the program, said Mark, and it was Fran’s baby.
“She thought of the YEA! kids as her own,” said office manager Susana Peckinpah.
“She was very straightforward with them,” said Hunnicutt. “Their growth was amazing. [Their relationship] did not end with graduation.”
Mark shared an especially meaningful text message from one of Fran’s YEA! kids, which read, in part: “She was like a second mother to me and I honestly thought she would be there to tease and support me in whatever I do. I’ll always be in her debt, and I think the same goes for most anyone who met her.”
Another former mentee, he said, had made plans to fly in from Israel for Fran’s memorial services.
Fran and Mark raised two children of their own, Kevin, a doctor, and Corinne, who works in the mortgage industry. Fran was a devoted wife and mother who was interested in a variety of things, said her family. She was an avid reader and writer, a veterans advocate, a sports fan (Clovis High, the 49ers and the Giants) and a talented homemaker.
“I don’t think there was anything she couldn’t do,” said daughter Corinne. “She made me [and my friends] three Halloween costumes in two days before Halloween. They were full-blown Snow White costume, Belle costume and Tinker Bell costume.”
While a student at Davis, Fran was a member of the Madrigal choir. She enjoyed performing with various church and community choirs, including the Fresno Community Chorus, off and on throughout the years. She was also an accomplished musician, adept at playing the cello, piano and classical guitar.
“She could just pick up music and start playing,” said Mark.
Her colleagues recalled how the Chamber’s offices were often filled with the sound of Fran’s singing. Among her favorite musicians: The Beatles.
“She was passionate about the Beatles,” laughed Mark. “She had every doll ever made of each of them, the Bobbleheads, she had every poster and record album.”
“Her life peaked,” Kevin said, “when my grandpa was taking his daughters to see The Beatles at the Cow Palace and they were stopped, waiting in line, and all of a sudden a limo pulled up and Paul McCartney was right next to her and waved to her.”
“From what I heard she just fell to the floor, and Paul McCartney smiled,” said Mark.
But even Paul McCartney’s smile may have paled in comparison to Fran’s. Mark recalled an ongoing joke between them. As communications director for the Clovis Chamber of Commerce, Fran often served as his “ghostwriter,” composing and editing his contribution to the Chamber’s newsletter, the letter from the president and CEO.
She never let him forget who wrote it, he said, and “all she had to do for me was just flash that smile.”
Memorial services for Fran Blackney are scheduled for 5 p.m., Sat., Nov. 14 at the Clovis Veterans Memorial District building.
The Clovis Chamber of Commerce is in the process of establishing a memorial scholarship in Fran Blackney’s name. The Fran Blackney Young Entrepreneurs Academy Scholarship will benefit future YEA! students.