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Marie Frances has produced sporting events, TV shows and films, and there is a street named after her in Tanzania.

Marie Francis

Author: JT Wilcox
The Villages Daily Sun

Marie Frances is a big fan of Frank Sinatra, which is of little surprise given she’s a native New Yorker with Italian heritage. In a conversation with her, she can regale with tales of her work across the globe and encounters with stars while working as an international producer.

Frances has interviewed award-winning actor/director Clint Eastwood, comedian Dom DeLuise and Academy Awardwinning costume designer Edith Head. She’s taken photos and rubbed elbows with all sorts of VIPs — from African leaders to Star Wars legend Mark Hamill.

She spent time working for the Executive Office of the President of the United States, modeled in New York, produced televised beauty pageants, is a breast cancer survivor, and even has a street named after her — Marie Frances Boulevard — in Tanzania.

Just like “Ol’ Blue Eyes’ crooned, she lived a life that’s full and traveled plenty of highways, and Frances did it her way.

“I did a lot of work in different African countries, especially in Egypt and Tanzania, and their ideas of what woman should have been doing or wearing were quite different,” said Frances, who lived in the Village of McClure with her daughter before recently moving to her own home in Wildwood.

I think, ‘How could I do it my way? I’m a woman working overseas.’ I had to do things their way or make them think I was doing it their way and then put it in my way.

MArie Francis

Shortly after graduating from the University of Maryland, Frances started her own company — Marie Frances Productions — and in 1971 she set out to produce the first international marathon in Giza, Egypt. She called it The Pyramids Marathon, a long-distance run set against the backdrop of one of the Seven Wonders of the World.

“I worked with the minister of tourism in Egypt, who wouldn’t allow me to speak to any other man there because they would not approve anything I was doing,” Frances said. “I was determined to produce it in spite of what they thought. It was a magnificent race … can you imagine running by the Great Pyramids in a place where 6,000 years before the pharaohs themselves ran in festivals to show their strength.”

While producing The Pyramids Marathon, Frances also started the Mount Kilimanjaro Marathon and Climb in Tanzania in 1991. After meeting with and convincing Tanzanian officials of her concept, Frances produced the first one and its popularity grew after it was named the No. 4 adventure marathon in the world by Forbes Magazine.

The 2023 Kili Marathon will take place June 25 and is the oldest continuing marathon in Tanzania.

“It’s amazing that we’re able to still do it,” said the 86-year-old Frances, who will be in attendance for the festivities this year. “Ethiopian Airlines has been wonderful in supporting us. The event has continued to grow and I’m very proud of it.”

Because of her work in Tanzania and the positive impact it created for the east African country, the Tanzanian government awarded her a key to the city of Moshi and named a street in her honor.

“I always entered with a good heart and the mentality to do things to help people. There are so many great people in Tanzania, and I am grateful for the time that I’ve spent there and the work I was able to do,” Frances said.

“Not even Oprah has a street named after her … and she’s done so much wonderful work in Africa — I’m most proud of that.”

Frances’ time in Africa also included a decade-long stint as the producer and director of the Miss Egypt and Miss Universe pageants.

From 1987 to 1997, she oversaw the entire production, including securing broadcast rights with NBC to air the pageants.

“It was difficult early on because the Egyptian woman is not allowed to display herself at all,” she said. “I’d have to get creative to allow for the women to be comfortable and safe and for us to put on a good pageant.”

Frances continues to do things her way — even if it’s a bit slower and with the help of generous neighbors Michael Vetre (Village of Marsh Bend) and Becky Osborne. She plans to travel to St. Petersburg for the Art in Bloom festival as well as a special trip to Italy to see the sunken town of Aenaria with one of her granddaughters.

“Working and getting out and doing things is good, it keeps your mind sharp,” Frances said. “We shouldn’t be afraid of problems or things that happen in life … that’s God’s way of keeping you alive.”