In Memoriam: Professor Emerita of Theatre Virginia Royster Francisco ’64

The university she loved so much remembers her indomitable spirit

Professor emerita and alumna Virginia “Ginny” Royster Francisco (left, pictured with Dr. Amy Cuomo ’85) at her 50th Reunion in 2014.

Professor Emerita of Theatre Virginia Royster “Ginny” Francisco ’64 passed away on September 21 at the age of 80 after a prolonged battle with Alzheimer’s disease. An alumna of Mary Baldwin, Francisco was a professor of theatre at MBU from 1970 until her retirement in 2010.

Also affectionately known as “Dr. Fran,” Francisco taught courses in theatre history and literature, directed over 50 plays, and served on numerous committees. Her career also included several years of service as an associate dean for special programs, which encompassed the growth of new programs such as the master of arts in teaching.

Upon her retirement, Francisco said:

Mary Baldwin is a very special college, one that provides a wonderful and distinctive education for women (and some smart men) at all levels. I’m a missionary about Mary Baldwin, which made me the woman I am, for better or for worse.

Thanks to my Mary Baldwin education, I’ve had an amazingly rich, varied, fully engaging life. I’m grateful for that, and especially for wonderful students and colleagues.

By all accounts, Francisco was a force of nature with many interests and talents. She could tell you all about the history of ancient Greek theatre; build a set for a play; prune a Christmas tree; and even immunize a lamb. Above all, she always advocated for, and insisted on, women’s education and leadership in all institutions. And as an advocate for social justice, she was a leader in the first Habitat for Humanity Women’s build in Staunton.

Francisco also believed in the transformative power of art. She promoted classical music for the Staunton Music Festival and was one of the founders of the Oak Grove Folk Music Festival in Verona.

Since her time as a Mary Baldwin student, she was involved in Oak Grove Theater and Theater Wagon productions as well. On her retirement, Ginny’s expertise in history and architecture prompted her to work with Staunton Guided Tours.

Below, she is remembered by her daughter, alumna Sarah Francisco ’98, along with select former students and faculty.

“Thanks to my Mary Baldwin education, I’ve had an amazingly rich, varied, fully engaging life. I’m grateful for that, and especially for wonderful students and colleagues.”

Photo from 1963 Bluestocking


Sarah Francisco ’98

She was tough, brilliant, and had a wonderful sense of humor. She loved to cook and to bring family, old friends, new students, and new friends together around the dinner table. But she also set high standards for herself and for everyone around her, and she would teach you how to meet them.

She kept up with the modern world for as long as she could, from local events to national politics, and the only times I ever saw her flummoxed by today’s world were upon encountering people with no interest in her perceived-to-be-antiquated standards.

Adjunct Instructor Morgan Alberts Smith ’99

Dr. Fran was the perfect example of what we were taught to be as women’s college graduates. She was strong, she was fierce, and she loved with all of her being. She was truly a goddess among women.

Virginia attorney and MBU alumna Frost Burnett Telegadas ’83

This is such a loss. I worked for Ginny for three years as my financial aid job and learned so much from her and Terry Southerington. She gave me excellent life advice which I followed as I went to law school and began a career. I’m a devoted fan of live theater because of her influence.

Associate Professor Emeritus of Philosophy Edward Scott

Virginia Francisco was formidable but gentle. She was fierce but soft. She was sophisticated and sentimental all at once. She loved the school that had shaped her and she was determined to be as good a gift to her students as Mary Baldwin had been to her.

All of us felt the sting of her absence from the moment she took her leave of classroom, office and table for retirement because there was only one Virginia Francisco and she had been a splendid gift to us all.

Service Information

A memorial service will be held at 11 am. on Sept. 30 at Covenant Presbyterian Church in Staunton and a reception will follow at 5 p.m. at MBU’s Fletcher Collins Theatre.

Read the obituary here.