MANITOULIN— The Rick Francis Memorial Golf Tournament has enjoyed great success over the course of its 11-year history, but when the burden of organizing the event became too much for his widow Ruth it seemed the event had run its course. Rick’s brother, Ray Francis of Little Current, was dismayed when he learned of the possible cancellation and he reached out to his brother’s family to see if the event could be moved to the Island.
“We had talked before about holding it one year in Thunder Bay and alternating years on Manitoulin,” he said, “but that wouldn’t have worked out with the tournament’s sponsors.”
Instead, the decision was made to hold the tournament in Thunder Bay, but that is no longer viable. “His sons are all working out west and it is just too much for his wife to keep organizing,” said Mr. Francis. “It came as a bit of a shock (when he heard about the possible cancellation).” After a short chat with one of his brothers, Ray Francis convinced his brother’s family to let him try moving the tournament to Manitoulin and the result is that the tournament will be taking place at Rainbow Ridge Golf Course on Saturday, September 19.
The Island diaspora, common to many rural communities, has seen Manitoulin’s sons and daughters leave our shores to seek economic opportunities across the globe. Rick Francis of Wikwemikong left his home community of Wikwemikong for the city of Thunder Bay, settling down to raise a family and becoming an integral part of that community. Working for the city and an avid sports fan he became a minor league coach and volunteer, but his life was cut short by a vehicular accident all too familiar to residents of Northern Ontario.
“Tragically it happened on the Victoria Day Weekend,” recalled Mr. Francis. “He was enroute to pick up his new grandson when a very large bull moose ran into the vehicle right where he was sitting.” The end for Rick Francis, who was then only in his 40s, was mercifully quick. “The doctor described it like a light switch going off,” said Mr. Francis.
After a year following his passing, his family and friends sought a way to keep his legacy alive when they hit upon the idea of a memorial golf tournament. “He was a very good iron player,” said Mr. Francis of his brother.
The tournament is being sponsored by Manitoulin Chrysler, who have put up two hole-in-one cars, a Dart by a 118-yard par three hole and a Journey located at another hole.
“Hopefully no one will hit the cars,” smiled Mr. Francis.
The proceeds from the tournament when it was held in Thunder Bay went to ProKids, a city-run charity that provides positive experience in sports and other activities for children who might not have the opportunity to take part, explained Ruth Francis, Rick’s widow. For this year’s event the beneficiary will be the SkateCanada program, but Mr. Francis said that next year he hoped to have arrangements made to benefit Manitoulin’s Special Olympics program.
The 12th Annual Rick Francis Memorial Golf Tournament will be taking place at Rainbow Ridge Golf Course on Saturday, September 19 and there is still time to register a team for the event.
“In a way, Rick is coming home to us,” noted Mr. Francis.