Florence Irving Francis passed on peacefully in her sleep early on the morning of January 13, 2023. Born Florence Brown Irving on January 17, 1925, in Raleigh, North Carolina, she was the second of three children born to Charles G. Irving, Sr. and Callie Brown Irving.
She was raised to believe in the transformative power of education in a loving, protective and encouraging home in Raleigh’s Fourth Ward neighborhood. When she was only 14 years old, she graduated as the salutatorian of the Washington High School Class of 1939. Florence Irving enrolled at Spelman College in Atlanta, Georgia and graduated at the age of 18, as salutatorian, with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Economics. She was a member of the timeless Spelman Class of 1943. Upon graduation, she went to work as an economist in a federal agency in Washington, DC in the midst of WWII. Following WWII, she enrolled in graduate school at the University of Chicago where she earned a Master of Business Administration degree in 1948.
In 1949, Florence Irving accepted an appointment as a professor of business administration at North Carolina A&T State University and moved to Greensboro, NC. As a scholar and professor, she was an active participant in the Civil Rights Movement. In 1955, she was one of the first African-American women admitted to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Law School. Rather than attend law school, she took leave from NC A&T to serve as researcher at the Southern Regional Council in Atlanta. During that time, she published research supporting the Movement in The Journal of Negro Education and in the periodical New South. When she returned to the NC A&T faculty in 1956, she actively supported the students participating in the Greensboro Lunch Counter Sit-Ins.
The late 1950s were momentous in her personal life as well. During that time, she met and fell in love with Knella Geoffrey Elijah Francis. They were married in 1960 and moved to his native Antigua, West Indies. After two years of living in beautiful Antigua, the couple returned to North Carolina in 1962. Their two sons, Charles and Garrick, were born in 1963 and 1966, respectively.
In 1963, Florence Irving Francis joined the Saint Augustine’s College faculty as a professor of business administration. In the mid-1960s, she earned another master’s degree, the M.Ed., from North Carolina State University. In the late 1960s, she was recruited to join the administration at NC State becoming one of the early African-American professionals on the NC State faculty and administration. She worked in the administration at NC State assisting and advising countless students over the years until her professional retirement in 1987. Florence Irving Francis was actively engaged in serving others. She served on the Board of Directors for Wake County Habitat for Humanity and with the Wake County Democratic Women. She served as a member of the Association of Retired Faculty of North Carolina State University, the NAACP, Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, the Leisurettes, Davie Street Presbyterian Church in her youth, and St. Ambrose Episcopal Church when she returned to Raleigh with her husband, Knella.
She relished competitive bridge in the Capital City Bridge Club, and King and Queens Bridge Club. She enjoyed gardening, travel, poetry, real estate investment and management and, most of all, she cherished her family. Although she had had numerous academic and professional achievements, she most highly valued her role as a daughter, sister, wife, mother, aunt and grandmother. She loved her family passionately and unconditionally from childhood to her passing. She was born into a loving home, married in love at the family homeplace, and filled every home that she inhabited with that same love and grace. To her, every day was a new opportunity filled with unlimited potential.
Florence Irving Francis was predeceased by her husband, Knella Geoffrey Elijah Francis; her parents, Charles G. Irving, Sr. and Callie Brown Irving; her siblings, Charles G. Irving, Jr. and Vivian E. Irving. She is survived by her two sons, Charles T. Francis and wife Marvea of Raleigh, Garrick C. Francis and wife Sheila of Washington, DC; grandchildren, Taylor Francis, Logan Francis, Charles Francis II, Garrick “Ries” Francis II and Karis Francis; beloved niece Cyretha Irving Knobloch and husband Oliver as well as nieces, nephews and cousins.
Family visitation will be held from 4:00 PM to 6:00 PM on Friday, January 27, 2023 at Haywood Funeral Home, 2415 South Wilmington Street, Raleigh, North Carolina. Delta Sigma Theta Sorority will also conduct the Omega Service during this time. A Celebration of Life Service will be held at 10:00 AM on Saturday, January 28, 2023, in the Haywood Funeral Home Chapel. Family visitation will also be held at 9:30 AM. Interment will follow at Carolina Biblical Gardens Cemetery, 1539 Creech Road, Garner, NC.
The family requests that those wishing to donate in memory of Florence Irving Francis please consider a donation in her honor to the Spelman College Class of 1943 Reunion Gift, in lieu of flowers. Please mail checks payable to Spelman College to 350 Spelman Ln SW, Box 1303, Atlanta, GA 30314 or make an online donation by selecting the following link: https://securelb.imodules.com/s/1025/bp22/interior-ns.aspx?sid=1025&gid=1&pgid=1068&cid=2768&appealcode=ClassGift. In both instances, please specify that your gift is in memory of Florence Irving Francis, C43. Donations to the YMCA of the Triangle are also appreciated. Please mail checks to 801 Corporate Center Drive, Suite 200, Raleigh, NC 27607.
Please Note*** All who will be in attendance for services will need to wear a face covering or mask.