Samuel A. Francis ’50

Samuel A. Francis ’50 died on August 4, 2017, in Marion, Massachusetts.

(The following was published was published in The Boston Globe on August 27, 2017:)

FRANCIS, Samuel Adams Sam Francis, 91, took his final flight in the wee hours of August 4, 2017.

Samuel Adams Francis was born October 16, 1925 in Fitchburg, MA, and grew up in Leominster, New Bedford, and Marion, MA. The last of his generation, he was predeceased by both his brother, Thayer Francis, Jr. of Aiken, SC, and his sister Barbara Ann Carlson of Bedford, NH.

Sam’s formal education started in a one room schoolhouse in Leominster, and concluded with a Masters from Harvard University (1990). He also attended Portsmouth Priory (1943), MIT, Bowdoin College (1950) and The Cambridge School of Culinary Arts. Perhaps more importantly, Sam attended business meetings with his father as a young boy, and was there exposed to problem solving in the HVAC Engineering world. Sam has always been a thinker and a problem solver—the more complex the better. He could always be counted on to approach a problem in a new way.

Sam, his brother Tim and friend Phil Tabor, formed Francis Associates, an electrical-mechanical engineering firm in Marion, MA shortly after he graduated from Bowdoin. They consulted with the Draper Lab at MIT to design the first inertial guidance system, testing it in a B-29 Bomber. This project later became the basis for the inertial guidance systems in ICBMs, which Sam described not as “top secret,” but “ALL Secret.” His involvement in SAGE—the system which controlled all the Air Defenses for North America—was next.

As Francis Associates grew into Sippican Corporation, it turned its focus to oceanographic issues. Sam’s invention of the XBT—Expendable Bathy Thermograph, crucial in anti-submarine warfare, is still the standard for oceanographic temperature measurement worldwide.

Consulting with Grumman on the Apollo LEM project, Sam had a simple, profound way to eliminate the problem that had kept us off the moon for nearly two years. With his solution implemented, the USA was first to set foot on the moon.

In 2011 Sam attended the last Shuttle launch. On the trip north he went to the Smithsonian Museum. He was thrilled to see the LEM in which he’d played such a critical role in designing. It was the first time he had seen it fully constructed.

Sam has been a member of the St. Botolph Club since 1958 where he could always find stimulating conversations and many friends.

Sam did more than solve problems. He shared his knowledge, gladly took young engineers under his wing and helped guide them to careers of their own.

Sam loved sailing the old Yankees and cruising Buzzards Bay and beyond. This, combined with his understanding of the physics of the wind on the sail, ultimately brought him to the world of Soaring.

Sam was forever thankful that he lived in a time when he could fly gliders and small planes. He was a pillar of the Soaring community in New England for over 25 years: Soaring Society of America Director for Region I, SSA Officer and committee chair, and FAA Designated Examiner. A noted Open Class competitor (and multi-year New England Champion), he owned a K8, then an Open Cirrus, and finally a Nimbus 2. He was a key supporter of the MIT Soaring Club since its inception.

His first plane, a J-3 Piper Cub, sported a wooden prop and took off at 50mph. In 1999 Francis flew his Cessna 170 from Buzzards Bay to Puget Sound for his granddaughter’s HS graduation. He was an accomplished navigator and had imagined a solo cross-country trip since he’d seen his first plane. When it finally happened, he did it with a GPS and a cell phone at his side. Sam, in his quest for knowledge, plotted a course that had him overnighting exclusively in college/university towns. He’d take a seat at the bar for dinner, knowing whoever sat down next to him was apt to be the catalyst for a “great conversation” and maybe that new idea.

Sam Francis is survived by four daughters: Susan Putnam of Boston, MA, Tappan Titherington of Kea’au, HI, Christina Stone and Margaret Cook of Marion, MA; 8 grandchildren; and many nieces & nephews. He was a father figure and mentor to many others as well. Sam passed peacefully at home surrounded by family and his fabulous care team whom he adored.

Sam is on his final flight. He has “slipped the surly bonds of earth…and has touched the face of God.” (From “High Flight” by James Gillespie Magee Jr.)

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