KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 21 — Former Malay Mail sports editor Tony Francis passed away today. He was 73.
It is understood that he had been suffering from pulmonary fibrosis.
He forged an illustrious career at the New Straits Times (NST) for more than 30 years before joining Malay Mail in 2002 as its sports editor.
He covered two Summer Olympic Games, 1988 in South Korea and 1992 in Barcelona, and three football World Cups (1974 in Germany, 2006 in Berlin and 2010 in South Africa) as well as major national and regional competitions like the Thomas Cup, Sea Games and Asian Games.
Francis was one of the first batch of journalists to be inducted into the Olympic Council of Malaysia’s (OCM) Hall Of Fame in 2015 and former OCM secretary-general Datuk Sieh Kok Chi remembers him as one of the most likable personalities one could ever meet.
“I’ve never met a soul who had a bad thing to say about Tony. He was very likeable, liked by everybody,” Sieh said when contacted.
“I first met him in the 70s at a swimming event with another journalist Lazarus Rock. It was our first close encounter and we were friends ever since.
“He was an open-minded person. The type of reporter who was always fair and would listen to both sides of the story which is why he was well loved,” said Sieh, adding that he last met Francis six months ago for tea.
Francis' spouse of 25 years, Cheng Tuan, told Malay Mail his condition became grave a week ago and he succumbed to his illness this morning.
He remained an avid sports enthusiast and golfer to the very end.
“His condition was good until a week ago when it became worse. Up till then, he had still been following his sports.
“He loved the golf scene and would play often,” she recalled.
Francis' colleague from NST, Png Hong Kwang, remembers him as someone who was always friendly and jovial.
Francis had just started working at NST when Png first met him. That friendship would last for a lifetime.
When contacted, Png said Francis had a quality that drew people to him and made him a joy to be around.
“He was such a friendly chap which is why he was an excellent reporter,” he said.
“Generally, what people would say about him is he naturally is a very likeable guy. Not only that, he is also a helpful person.
“We were supposed to meet him yesterday but he wasn't in the best condition to meet up. I guess we just missed him by a day.”
Former Malay Mail sports editor and columnist Tony Mariadass remembers Francis fondly as his mentor and friend.
Mariadass had written articles about Francis often crediting the latter for having a huge impact on his career.
“He was my boss for only four years in the early 80s when I was a rookie sports journalist at The Malay Mail and was responsible for my growth as a sports journalist and being in the industry all these years,” Mariadass posted on his Facebook page.
“Tony (Francis) was a true and true journalist moving from sports to news and heading the news desk at the New Straits Times and later back at The Malay Mail.
“Am going to miss him greatly, as I have always kept in touch with him and have regular conversations with him and message each other almost every day.”
Sieh recalled that it was Mariadass’ idea to induct journalists into the OCM Hall of Fame some years ago.
Francis was one of the leading contenders mentioned, and as such, he was inducted in 2015.
“Tony Mariadass brought up the idea to induct some of these veterans who had made an impact in journalism and it was an easy decision to nominate Francis as one of the first batches to be inducted.
“So, as secretary of OCM at the time we nominated him for the hall of fame under sports writers. There were only a few of them,” he recalled.
According to Mariadass’ Facebook page, Francis started his career as a 20-year-old in NST in 1967 at the news desk moving to sports after three months.
He rose from being a cadet reporter to becoming Assistant Sports Editor, Sports Editor, Chief News Editor and Associate Editor before retiring from the NST in 2002.
He had the privilege of working with Tan Sri Lee Siew Yee, Francis Emmanuel, sub-editor Alex Soars and sports editor Chuah Huck Seng besides legendary sports writers, Norman Siebel and Ian Perreira.
Upon retiring, he became the Editor of Golf Digest with Blu Inc before joining Malay Mail under its new management as the editor-in-chief. He also acted as a consultant for motoring magazine Top Gear.