Kenneth Francis’ first order of business as the new police chief in Gardner was to go get a cup of coffee.
He asked police Capt. Jim Moore where everyone in town gathered. Of course, in Gardner that is the Downtowner Cafe.
That was in 1987. Until Francis died Friday, he would stop in at the Downtowner almost every day, Moore said.
For Moore, the lesson was that a lawman’s best work is done not with criminals but with the community. For 25 years, Francis taught that lesson to a generation of Gardner police officers.
Francis, 66, died at Olathe Medical Center, surrounded by his wife, Patty, and other family members.
Known to friends as Kenny, he was born in St. Joseph to Harry and Alice Francis. Francis was drawn to police work at an early age, talking with police officers running speed checks near his family’s grocery store. After high school, he became a policeman in the Missouri Air National Guard and served in the U.S. Air Force in Vietnam.
He went on to become the first police chief in Weston, Mo., at age 27. His career took him to police departments in Trenton, Mo.; Sikeston, Mo.; and Gladstone before he took over as chief in Gardner.
Moore worked with Francis for 25 years, and called him not just a police chief, but a teacher and a friend.
“He was a cop’s cop,” Moore said. “For him, the officers came first.”
Francis was a great storyteller, Moore said. But the chief didn’t just tell the kinds of war stories that were for bragging or amusement. They were teaching tools.
“There was always a lesson to learn from it,” Moore said. “For me, the lesson he instilled was integrity.”
But Francis was more to Gardner than just a “cop’s cop,” family and city officials said.
“He was loved by all,” said his wife, Patty.
In a statement from the city, Gardner Mayor Dave Drovetta said the police chief carried with him a positive demeanor and a sense of strength that gave the whole town a feeling of well-being.
“I will miss his sense of humor, his calmness, and most of all his friendship and good counsel,” Drovetta said.
Francis attended the University of Virginia and the University of Missouri, and graduated from the FBI National Academy in Quantico, Va. In his career, he was a president of the Johnson County Police Chiefs, the FBI National Academy Associates, the Missouri Police Chiefs Association and the metropolitan Police Chiefs’ and Sheriffs’ Association. He served on various committees with the International Association of Chiefs of Police, and was chairman of the advisory board to criminal justice studies at Johnson County Community College. He also was once a president of the Gardner Lions Club.