Willow Point florist and treasured busy body Fran Jones says she doesn’t have “a clue” why she just received the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal.
Leaning on her cane to ease the burden of worsening multiple sclerosis she huffs, “If you find out who put my name forward let me know.”
Most folks crave recognition of this calibre. Remarkably, Jones seems somewhat embarrassed.
“My day is done,” the 71-year-old insists.
Don’t believe her for a second. While her capacity to engage is diminished, it is certainly not extinguished. In fact, everything about Jones’ track record in Willow Point shouts tenacity.
“It’s plain stubbornness,” she admits.
That tenacity was nurtured when her two boys were still in school and Jones, a widow, went to work as a letter carrier to support the family. What Canada Post did not know was that she had already been diagnosed with MS. If they had known, she believes, they never would have hired her.
“At the 10-year mark my MS was increasing and I knew I wasn’t going to be a letter carrier for too much longer.”
That’s when Jones’ orchid greenhouse at home led to her setting up a modest flower cooler in the local co-op which evolved into Oyster River Flowers and still thrives today as The Flower Shop at Willow Point.
Later in life Jones continued to face and overpower health challenges. In her 60s she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Not content to be merely a cancer survivor Jones volunteered with the Cancer Connection, a network sponsored by the Canadian Cancer Society that helps cancer fighters face their challenges.
“I have been a source of affirmation and empathy…helping women find information, giving them tips that will help, and identifying coping mechanisms.”
Jones is best known for her decades of advocacy for the Willow Point business community. It started with the Willow Point Merchants’ Group in the 1980s and continued with the Business Improvement Association in the 1990s.
The revitalization of Willow Point was truly a community effort, Jones recalls. It included open houses and broad input.
“Everyone here at that time was involved in the revitalization planning including people who lived here. City hall’s planners were a huge help. At that time the city often sent prospective businesses and developers down to talk to us.”
Most often those developers were sent to see Jones and she became widely recognized as the de facto “Mayor of Willow Point.”
“Willow Point has always been a welcoming community, a great place to raise kids. Most of the business owners live in the area and so do the people who work here.”
Jones’ Diamond Jubilee Medal is her second “Royal” acknowledgement. In 2002, she received the Queen’s Golden Jubilee Medal also for her record of community service.
“They may have pinned medals on me, but there were a whole lot of people working on all the things I’ve been involved with,” Jones says. “That includes quite a number of people who live in the area as well as the business owners.”
She insists it is time to start celebrating a new generation of young community-minded citizens.
“It’s time for the next group to express its vision. It’s really pleasing to see the younger people taking over. I can hardly wait to see what they do.”