LIMA — Tom Francis never planned to stay in radio in Lima. It would be a few months, maybe a few years, then he’d be gone to a bigger market, the Columbus native told his wife, Jean Francis.
That was in February 1959. He fell in love with a city that loved him back over the course of a 51-year career at WIMA-AM radio, including 25 years as the host of the morning show.
“Tom loved Lima a lot,” said his widow, Jean Francis. “He was a big promoter of this city. He hated when people criticized Lima. He loved everything about this wonderful city.”
Francis, 79, died at 12:45 a.m. Monday at Lima Convalescent Home, where he spent the last six weeks. He battled Alzheimer’s disease for the past five years, Jean Francis said.
Services will begin at 11 a.m. Saturday at Chamberlain-Huckeriede Funeral Home. Visitation is 2 to 8 p.m. Friday and an hour before services Saturday at the funeral home.
Given his long career at the radio station, some dubbed him “The Voice of Limaland.” Mike Mullen, the station’s sports voice on the morning show for three decades, had a different spin on his time here.
“I call him probably the biggest cheerleader Lima had when he was on the air,” said Mullen, who joined Francis’ morning program in 1974. “He was so positive in everything he approached and did. He was a big promoter of this area.”
Francis started his Lima radio career in February 1959. In March 1963, he took over for Cliff Willis on the station’s morning program. He spent the next 25 years helping Lima’s residents wake up. He also served as program director then sales manager, but he always loved being the morning man most, Jean Francis said.
He retired in February 2010, with the station remembering his career on “Tom Francis Day.” Current morning show host Mike Miller plans to use much of Tuesday morning’s program recalling Francis’s career highlights.
“Tom was the ultimate professional,” said Matt Bell, market manager for Clear Channel Lima/Marion, which owns WIMA-AM. He started working with Francis in sales in 2005. “He had class and dignity, and he was an amazing person to be able to learn from.”
He often served as an emcee at area banquets and the annual Junior Miss pageant.
Dave Woodward, now the promotions director with Childers Media Group and a morning host on 92.1 The Frog’s “Dave & Ambyr in the Morning,” said he was grateful for everything he learned from Francis when he started at WIMA-AM in 1993. He marveled at how comfortable Francis was with a microphone in public.
“Tom was an amazing emcee,” Woodward said. “When he turned on that microphone, he became electric. He had an amazing delivery. He was like a fish to water.”
Francis was equally well-known for his volunteerism. He served on numerous boards, including the Lima Family YMCA, where he was inducted into the Lima Family YMCA Heritage Club’s Triangle of Honor in 2007. He was past president of the Lima Noon Optimist Club. In 1988, he helped Barry Ruben take over the Lima Locos, and the two owned the team until 2004. Francis also received the St. Rita’s Mercy Club Award in 2009.
He was also active at Trinity United Methodist Church, including serving as a trustee. He was instrumental in broadcasting the church’s services.
“In the old days when we did cassette tapes, he’d sit up in the sound booth and see the recording made properly. He’s go in this car and carry it to the radio in time for it to be broadcast at noon,” Pastor David Harris said. “In his very kind and helpful way, he’s help me to remember not to preach too long so he could make that.”
Francis maintained a close relationship to his alma mater, The Ohio State University, where he graduated from in 1956. He later led the Ohio State Allen County Alumni Association. He served on the OSU-Lima Citizens Advisory Council for 25 years and was one of the original board of trustees members. In June 2004, he received the Violet I. Meek Town and Gown award from Ohio State-Lima. In November 2011, he and Jean donated $50,000 to OSU-Lima to establish an endowed scholarship fund for students in Allen County majoring in communications at the college.
“He had a real dedication and passion for the community, and he was willing to be a part of things and to support those things he thought would make a difference,” said Amanda Miller, director of development at Ohio State-Lima. “He and his wife, Jean, really functioned as a team. Certainly for Ohio State, they have been incredible friends, supporters and leaders. We’ll really miss him.”