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Recalling Franca Lewis

March 04, 1997

Like the recent death of community activist Jack Barr, the unexpected passing of long-time Herald-Mail reporter Franca Lewis was too sudden and too soon for all who knew her personally and professionally. In both cases, a good voice was stopped in mid-sentence, leaving the rest of us wondering why it had to happen now, when it seemed there was still so much more to come.

To say that Franca Lewis was a long-time Herald-Mail reporter is to provide an inadequate description of what she did as a professional. Although she was not a native of Washington County, to her the community and the people in it were things she cared deeply about, whether she was writing a story about elected officials' spending habits or helping someone who'd been cheated in a mail-order scam in her role as an Action Line reporter.

She also knew how to listen, which is an art in itself. Any competent reporter can ask questions and write down the answers. It takes someone more perceptive to realize that you don't always get the full story if you just ask your questions and then leave.

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Franca Lewis knew how to listen even when there was no chance of getting a by-line for that particular day. She knew that unless you make your sources feel you care about them as something other than as raw material for stories, they won't risk giving you a tip when something important is about to break.

It's not an overstatement to say Lewis was passionate about her work. During the Blizzard of '96, despite a back problem that made it painful walk, she ignored an editor's suggestion that she skip covering the Williamsport Town Council. Nor was she shy about confronting an editor she felt had done a poor job of handling her copy.

But Lewis was as quick to laugh as she was to anger, and the jokes she told (mostly on herself) often had half the newsroom laughing and the other half walking over to ask why.

None of these playful episodes came at inappropriate times; when deadline rolled around, she was all business. It was our good fortune to know her for many years, and our misfortune not to know we had so little time to say goodby.

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