Obituary : Francis S. Duane
Francis Sanford Duane of Cambridge and Oak Bluffs died on February 3. He was 79 years old. Francis is survived by his wife Despina H. Duane, his daughter, Christa Fischer, and her husband, Arnie, and by his three grandchildren, Emily, Lila, and Mason.
Francis, known to his friends and family as Barney, led a life that bore a wonderful resemblance to the stories found in the Dickens' novels he loved so well. Like Oliver Twist, he was an orphan. Barney was born April 15, 1928 in Hartford, Conn., to a Margaret F. Ryan. Later that month he was admitted to St. Francis Orphan Asylum in New Haven where he spent the first ten years of his life. Unlike Oliver Twist the orphanage when Barney spent his childhood seemed to be fairly progressive. The children were allowed to select their own clothing and given Christmas gifts by the Knights of Columbus. They had a playground, a large library and three meals a day, which was more than many children in the country got during the depression. The yellowed index card that is his only remaining record from the orphanage lists him and his mother's last name as Dwyer. Before his marriage Barney pursued information about his birth parents and found his father's name had been Duane and so he had his name changed.
In 1938 he was fostered by the Zande family of Torrington, Conn., where he spent the next eight years of his life. Pictures from his time with the Zandes show him with dogs and goats, a testament to his love of all creatures great and small. As a boy he worked at a nearby stable. There was always a special place in his heart for horses. Dogs were also a favorite and his Irish setter, Trevor, was a great source of joy in his life. He also attended middle and high school while living with the Zandes.
Barney enlisted in the army in 1946, four days after his 18th birthday. He spent three years in the army, starting in Kansas where he spent a brief time at the University of Kansas in veterinary school. Then he went to Korea for a year and a half where he was in charge of 20 guard dogs whose job it was to protect a warehouse. He loved the dogs but, from his stories about his time there, was not impressed with the weather in that part of the world.
After the Army he moved to Boston. There he met Despina Cicma at the Boston Arts Festival, which was held in the Public Garden. In 1957 married Despina and joined her large Greek family. In 1959 his only daughter Christa was born. In 1960 he graduated with a B.A. from Emerson College. He worked in public relations for the American Cancer and Heart Associations.
Barney had many hobbies and interests. He was an Anglophile who especially loved the Victorian period of English history. One of his most favorite things was the celebration on Christmas and anything that had to do with an old fashioned Yuletide; caroling, Christmas crackers and plenty of feasting finished off with minced pie. He was involved for many years with the Christmas Revels, the non-profit production company, which was formed in 1971 and stages shows that highlight folk Christmas traditions from around the world. Barney was involved with the company both on stage and off and loved singing and dancing.
In 1995 he revived the Dickens Society, a group devoted to the appreciation of Dickens and his works. The old leather chair in the living room of his Cambridge brownstone was always surrounded with piles of books and papers and a decanter of sherry sat on the table next to it. He was a collector of old and rare books and of the watercolors and drawings of Cecil Alden. He dreamed of writing children's books illustrated with his own photographs and drawings.
In 2005 he was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease. The effects were often well-hidden from his family by his sharp wits and acting abilities. Barney loved his family very much and perhaps he had a greater appreciation of his family than others, having known what it was like to be without one. He will be greatly missed by his friends, family, and dogs and horses everywhere.
A celebration of his life will be held on Saturday, June 21 at 2 pm at Atria Woodbriar, 329 Gifford Street, in Falmouth. Donations in his memory may be made to the MSPCA Angell Memorial MSPCA-Angell, Attn: Donations, 350 S. Huntington Avenue, Boston, MA 02130.