Mindelynn and I (Sarah) were reflecting on the day, and since we know that many of you were not able to make it to Florida, we asked LeAnne if we could share a little with you.
It seemed ironic to gather under the Spanish moss on a warm, sunny Florida morning for the purpose of bidding farewell to our good friend Francis. The natural beauty of the day almost seemed to mock the grief that was palpable among the family and friends present at Oaklawn Cemetery. But the day was so much more than a day of tears–it was a day pulsating with life, with hope, and even with joy. Not the type of joy you experience when life is good and circumstances are easy, but a deep and abiding joy that comes with knowing how much a person was loved and admired by those who knew him.
And Francis was–and is–very deeply loved and admired.
He is admired by high school friends who shared amusing anecdotes from the “early years” at the life celebration held in his honor at the Florida Yacht Club. Some of their memories are captured in this great video. He is highly esteemed by his professional colleagues who celebrated his deep commitment to public service, his integrity in pursuing excellence, and his desire to bring out the best in them. This was evident in the tribute given about him on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives recently.
And in honoring Francis, his friends and colleagues were also honoring his family, who–even in the midst of their own grief–comforted and served their guests with such grace and kindness that we could not help but feel overwhelmed. To lose a husband, a dad, a son, a brother, an uncle and still summon the strength to show hospitality and compassion to the rest of us is a reflection of the kind of people who are genuine and good. The kind of person Francis was.
One of Francis’ greatest gifts was his ability to befriend practically any one and to find ways to connect with people. So many people testified about his knack for making you feel as if you had known him forever, for being a “fast friend” who could be counted on to make you laugh, play a practical joke on you, talk about what is really important (whether it be Gator football, constitutional rights, etc.), and be there for you when you needed him. His loyalty, his service, his genuine love of people made him great.
We know that people all over the world have been reading this blog and regardless of the extent to which you know Francis and LeAnne, you undoubtedly are a “fast friend” of theirs. Throughout the day, LeAnne was showing us texts, emails, and Facebook messages that she has received from many of you. Each of them obviously means a lot to her, even if she isn’t able to respond to each and every one, and they will be important for the entire family for years to come. So if you have not yet shared your memories of Francis, please do so by emailing them to firstname.lastname@example.org.
In leaving Jacksonville, Mindelynn and I will continue honoring Francis by aspiring to be genuine and good friends to those in our lives. We can think of no greater way that you can honor Francis, LeAnne, and their family than by sharing your lives with others. For Francis, this meant sharing some of his life’s great enjoyments: golf, Gators, and good food.
Whatever is precious to you, don’t hold back. Think of Francis, and share abundantly.
“Life is unchartered territory. It reveals its story one moment at a time.” – Leo Buscaglia
Our dear friend LeAnne has made us guest contributors to this blog so that we can invite you to participate in an exciting project. We (Mindelynn and Sarah) have both been friends with LeAnne for a long time, and were thrilled when Francis came into her life and swept her off her feet (we claim him as a dear friend, too). We cherish the Gibbs family immensely and, like many of you, have been humbled and inspired by the tremendous strength, courage, and grace with which they have faced this struggle, even through heartache and disappointment.
So as their community of friends and loved ones, we want to invite you to help us honor them. They say “a picture is worth a thousand words” and “the shortest pencil is longer than the longest memory.” If that is true, then documenting and preserving memories is one of the best things we can do!
To celebrate and encourage Francis and LeAnne during the difficult time, and to collect memories that Couper and Riley, future grandchildren, and generations to follow will be able to look back on and cherish, we are asking family, friends, colleagues, mentors, professors, fellow Gators, or anyone else who has some great memories of times spent with Francis to email them to email@example.com. These precious moments, funny stories, and cherished reflections will be put into various media that Francis, LeAnne, and their chidlren can enjoy as a family and that will be a wonderful legacy for our dear friend.
So dig out your yearbooks, go through old photos, rewind old VHS tapes, dust off old letters, pen heartfelt greetings, scrounge for old golf scorecards and ticket stubs from memorable Gator games, etc., and dive back into days past to share your warm, funny, and heartfelt memories. If there are stories that go along with the pictures, souvenirs, etc., please write them down. The more you can put the memories in context, the sweeter the recollections will be!
If there are things you have that cannot be converted to electronic form and emailed, please let us know by sending an email to the address provided above. We will figure out what to do from there.
Thank you so much for helping us bless the Gibbs family with the gift of your treaures!
Sarah and Mindelynn
“Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other.” (Romans 12:10, NLT)