John I. Carney

Loose Talk / Charge Complete

John I. Carney is editor of the Times-Gazette.

We'll miss stories from an amazing man

Thursday, September 24, 2015

I would not swear to it in a court of law, but I think I remember first suggesting that the Times-Gazette have a ghost story contest. It's been an annual tradition for quite a while now, and we'll probably put out another call for entries in the next week or so.

For several years, a gentleman from Flat Creek by the name of Julio Francesconi was a frequent winner. At some point, he recused himself from the competition -- but began sending us stories anyway, first just Halloween stories but eventually Christmas and Easter stories as well.

They were always a joy to read, and we were privileged to be able to share them with readers. They were usually mystical in nature -- the Christmas and Easter stories usually had an element of the miraculous. They were beautifully written and it was obvious how much joy he took in writing them. It's all the more amazing because he was born in a non-English-speaking country.

Sadly, there will be no new stories -- Mr. Francesconi passed away on Monday at his home in Flat Creek, at age 98.

I can't claim to know Mr. Francesconi well -- I only saw him a few times a year, and even then I might happen to be out of the office when he brought by his story. But I always loved speaking with him. I remember how delighted I was one year when, after noting my interest in community theater, he said he thought I should play the lead role in "The Man Who Came To Dinner." The movie version of that play is one of my all-time favorite comedies; I'd never imagined myself in the role until he suggested it. It's a large-cast play, and so we probably won't be putting it on locally any time soon, but maybe I'll get to play the part someday. If I ever do, I will play it while thinking of Julio Francesconi.

The central character of "The Man Who Came To Dinner" is an outspoken and self-centered man, a brilliant commentator but something of a boor to those around him. Mr. Francesconi was anything but boorish. He was a charming, self-effacing and delightful man. I wish I'd gotten the chance to talk more with him. I was fascinated by some of the details in his obituary yesterday, and angry at myself for never having put myself in a position to find out that he had been a master of ceremonies at a nightclub in Mexico City or that he had worked at the Polo Lounge in the Beverly Hills Hotel, where Orson Welles and Elizabeth Taylor regularly asked for him. I was even shocked to find out from his obituary that he was 98 -- he certainly seemed 20 years younger.

I always though his accent sounded more Castillian than Latin American, but his stories often referenced Mexico or the southwest, and he was born in Mexico City. He retired to Flat Creek because that was Mrs. Francesconi's home.

Although Mr. Francesconi's stories had obviously been written on a computer, he would bring them in in printed form, meaning I'd have to retype them into our computer system. I never minded. I loved reading them, and I would agonize whenever I'd fix some little grammar error or add some explanatory word or phrase to make sure the readers caught his meaning. The last thing I wanted to do was take away his distinctive voice. When you edit fiction, you're never sure whether an "error" is actually intentional.

But if I ever did anything wrong, he never complained about it.

Halloween, Christmas and Easter just won't be the same without the chance to share Mr. Francesconi's stories with our readers. I referred to him above as "a gentleman from Flat Creek," and my use of the word "gentleman" was no accident.

--John I. Carney is city editor of the Times-Gazette and covers county government.

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