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Alfred E. FRANCE

1927 - 2015 Obituary Condolences
Alfred E. FRANCE Obituary
June 5, 1927 - July 11, 2015 Age 88, of Duluth, MN died at his home in the early morning of July 11, 2015. The immediate cause of death was leukemia. When he died he was at peace and surrounded by loving family members Al was a great champion of Duluth, the Iron Range and northeastern Minnesota in a long career that included four terms as a Minnesota State Representative, appointment as federal Co-Chairman of the Upper Great Lakes Regional Commission for economic development, and 20 years as President of the Iron Mining Association, representing mining and taconite industry interests in public relations and as a governmental lobbyist. Over 60 years of business and public service, Al served on a number boards and agencies, including UMD's Natural Resources and Research Institute, the Minnesota Taxpayers Association, UMD Medical and Business School Advisory Boards, the Sigurd Olson Institute of Northland College and the Port Authority of Duluth. He also served as the Chairman of Duluth's 1976 Bicentennial Commission. Al was inducted into the Duluth Hall of Fame in 2000, an honor that he described as "overwhelming." Al was born in Pennsylvania in 1927 to Alfred and Helen France. His father was a young minister of the Episcopal Church, who served parishes throughout Illinois, Montana, North Dakota and finally, St. Paul, Minnesota. The time the family spent during the 1930's in Townsend, Montana kindled Al's lifelong affinity for the Big Sky Country and the West. After graduating from Breck School in the Twin Cities in 1944, Al joined the Army and was part of the occupation in Germany. While stationed there, Al convinced his commander of the need for a regimental newspaper and became the paper's editor and correspondent in coverage of the Nuremberg war criminal trials. Following discharge from the Army at the rank of sergeant, Al attended the University of Minnesota, and graduated in 1948 with a B.A in Political Science. Throughout college Al was active in many organizations including the International Institute and the Festival of Nations. It was at the Festival of Nations that Al met another activist, Phyllis Brown of St. Paul. The two fell in love and were married in November of 1949 and took their honeymoon in the grey of that month to Winnipeg! Three boys were born of the marriage, Tom, Jack and Ted. They were happily raised on Vermilion Road in Duluth. Al began his career in 1950 when he became Governor Luther Youngdahl's Executive Secretary and continued in this capacity under Governor C. Elmer Anderson until 1955 when he took a job with Reserve Mining Company, in Duluth. Al and Phyl both came to care passionately for the North Country and its people. In 1958 Al took work as Director of Public Relations with the Westmoreland Advertising and Public Relations Firm where he became further engrossed in Minnesota's iron mining industry issues. While with the Westmoreland Agency, Al wrote and directed original five minute mining infomercials that preceded the uninterrupted movies presented by Producers Playhouse on Saturday nights. The infomercial series covered virtually every aspect of the iron mining industry in North America and allowed Al to visit and research many mines and processing facilities in the U.S. and Canada. In 1962, Al ran for the Minnesota Legislature and won the seat representing east Duluth. He served four terms, the last two of which went uncontested. In addition to his leadership in passing the Taconite Amendment and establishing UMD's Medical School, France helped create the Duluth Airport Authority, expanded the Duluth Seaway Authority and introduced legislation establishing the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency. At the time of Al's legislative service and as they would until 1973, legislators caucused as liberals and conservatives rather than by party affiliation. Al always believed the non-partisan caucuses contributed to better government and more cooperation across the aisle. In 1969, Al was appointed as the Federal Co-Chairman of the Upper Great Lakes Regional Commission by President Richard Nixon. The Upper Great Lakes Commission was an agency of the U.S. Department of Commerce and Al worked with the governors of Minnesota, Michigan and Wisconsin to promote economic development projects (among which was funding for the now old Duluth Airport) around the western Great Lakes. In 1970, Al joined the Dayton-Hudson Corporation and briefly moved to St. Paul before taking another business opportunity in 1972 that lead him and his family back to Duluth. Al presided over the Iron Mining Association of Minnesota and lobbied for the mining industry until his retirement in 1992. Following retirement, Al continued to serve as a board member for many organizations and agencies. Besides his professional work, Al and Phyl greatly enjoyed a wide and diverse circle of friends. Many of his friends relied on his encyclopedic knowledge of history and current events to settle stubborn questions, and his weather prediction abilities were legendary. Many a summers' eve were spent with friends picnicking on Park Point. Al savored classical music, the opera and Saturday afternoon live jazz at the Saratoga Club. Al was an enthusiastic member of a northern Minnesota duck hunting club and organized many a hunting expedition to Montana over the years with his hunting friends. He was a diligent but often frustrated golfer. In his later years, especially, Al joined friends for lunch at a local roundtable and took as much pleasure in their company and good conversation as in the food. Al was preceded in death by his son Jack in 1978 and wife Phyl in 2012. He is survived by sons Tom and Ted, their wives Meg Haenn and Brigitte France, and by four granddaughters, Johanna, Melissa, Sonja and Toni and grandson Luke Mendelman-Haenn. A memorial service will be held for Al at the DECC on Sunday, August 9 at 2pm. All are welcome. Memorials may be sent to the: Alfred & Phyllis France Scholarship Fund. University of Minnesota Medical School - Duluth, 1035 University Dr., Suite 107 Duluth, MN. 55812.
Published in Pioneer Press on July 14, 2015
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