Fran Villere’s daughter remembers her mother was determined to be wherever she was needed, whether that meant leading a budget meeting, planting in the garden or rolling up her sleeves to cook. It’s no surprise that this dedication led her to the Junior League. Fran spent many years deeply involved in the League, and when she passed away last November, she left it a generous endowment that ensures the organization she helped shape will continue to make an impact for years to come. For that alone, she deserves special mention, but it becomes obvious when hearing about Fran from her loved ones that she lived a rich life, a huge part of which was a commitment to volunteering and giving back to her community.
Fran grew up in Florida, but after graduating from Finch College in New York, she met and married a New Orleanian — her life-long husband George Gabriel Villere — and was quickly dedicated to helping New Orleans however she could. Fran’s daughter and fellow League member, Mathilde Currence, says her mother was a go-getter by nature but that finding the Junior League taught her how to channel that energy into real change. The League was her foundation — on how to run a meeting, how to balance a budget and how to turn dollars into diapers, support or comfort for those in need. And she was giving back as much as she was learning from the League. With a knack for cutting through the red tape and getting right to the substance, Fran quickly became a leader in the organization. Her friend and former League President, Janet Bean remembers her clear head in budget meetings. When things got tense or bogged down in the minutiae, Fran had a talent for snapping them back into focus. Peers admired her for her drive and for reminding them of their purpose: serving their community. Janet speaks of her respect and admiration for Fran, whose generous endowment inspired her to make a donation of her own in Fran’s memory. For Janet, it felt a most fitting way to express how she cherishes their friendship and how much Fran will be missed.
With the support of the League, Fran quickly became the force that she would be for many years — both in JLNO and on the boards of countless other charitable causes. Mathilde says even in her busiest years of fundraisers and board meetings, Fran never spread herself too thin; when an organization “got her,” they got all of her spirit and determination. But according to Mathilde, Fran began to miss more hands-on service and felt she was losing touch with the people she was trying to help, so Fran re-focused her energy and went where she was needed. One of those missions stands out in her memory as truly fulfilling her mother’s need for usefulness — volunteering at an organization called Lazarus. In the 1980s, Fran began working with the patients at Lazarus, a residential facility for terminally-ill AIDS patients at a time when the disease was at its peak. It was there that Fran — leader of boards and the general of meetings — would roll up her sleeves and plant in the garden or cook up a meal, whatever she could to make the patients more comfortable.
Even in spite of all of her talents and accomplishments, Fran considered herself a loving wife and mother first, and she bragged constantly about her children and grandchildren while downplaying her own incredible achievements. Her loving family will no doubt miss her dearly.
Fran’s story shows that service to one’s community comes in many forms and impacts, and that anyone can be a philanthropist if they are willing to go where they are needed and do what needs to be done, even if that means starting small. That is how the work gets done.
If Fran’s legacy has inspired you to donate, JLNO offers a monthly recurring gift option, as well as one-time or less frequent gift opportunities: https://junior-league-of-new-orleans.snwbll.com/giving-portal
JLNO also has a planned giving society, The 1924 Society, named for the year of JLNO’s founding and in honor of its 40 founding women: https://www.jlno.org/support/1924society/
JLNO is also the delighted recipient of matching gifts by companies and foundations, so individuals may have the opportunity to give through one of those channels to maximize their impact. Reach out to her with more questions about giving at: email@example.com.
Thanks to Mathilde Currence & Janet Bean for their input in this profile.