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Obituary: Francis Quin

Features | Published:

FRANCIS WILLIAM QUIN, third and youngest child of policeman William Quin and his wife, Wilhelmina, nee Barrett, was born on 16 March 1940.

It was not a time of life he talked much about, but his toddler days were spent in a German wartime camp at Biberach along with his mother.

Upon his return to the island after the war he attended St Martin’s Junior School in the late 1940s but by his own admission he wasn’t much of an academic. He much preferred being on the beach all summer and hunting for rabbits with his dad during the long winter months.

‘When they went off in the Occupation, dad greased his gun, wrapped it up in some sacking and buried it under the shed. After the Occupation he dug it up and started using it again – so we always had a gun in the house.

‘We lived behind the Queen’s Hotel and so much of the summer was spent on Moulin Huet or Saint’s Bay,’ he told Guernsey Press sports editor Rob Batiste during an interview in 2009. ‘Dad had a shotgun, we had ferrets and dogs and shooting was just one of those things to me.

‘Dad used to pick me up from St Martin’s Junior School on a Thursday afternoon and we’d go down to Bon Air in Sausmarez Road for pigeons and rabbits.’

Probably due to these more exciting distractions and his lack of interest in school, he failed the 11-plus and left Vauvert at 14. His first job was in the Markets as an apprentice butcher. After a couple of years with Chilcott’s, he became a labourer at Walter Mallett’s Fort George farm.

Then, before his 21st birthday, he had a spell laying the airport runway. It was while working there with a group of English labourers that he was encouraged to try his luck in London and for several years he spent his winters in the capital while running his own deckchair and whoopee float business in Guernsey during the summers.

This was the golden age of Guernsey’s tourist industry, prompted largely by the dirt-cheap British Rail fares that were on offer to all the firm’s UK staff.

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‘There were guest houses open everywhere and I had 400 deckchairs on Vazon and, with Max Crouchley, 200 at Petit Bot and 20-odd whoopee floats there,’ said Francis. ‘Tourism was king – the place was packed. People were queuing up for deckchairs and often they could all be gone by 10 in the morning.’

He was still in his 20s when the chance came up to go to sea, where his elder brother, Ave, a former publican, was already working on the Cunard liners.

First came a spell on the RMS Queen Mary operating between Southampton, New York and Cherbourg, and West Indies cruises followed. ‘There was no air-conditioning and it was awful,’ he said. So, with the help of his brother, he was transferred to the RMS Caronia, ‘The Green Goddess’, which offered world cruises.

‘My official title was assistant steward and then I was promoted to deck buffet steward. Basically my job was to set up all the cold serve and of a night time I would serve canapes on the two deck bars.’

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But this was the mid-’60s and the seamen’s major strike of the period brought Francis’s life at sea to an end. Cunard fell into difficulties and sold all its big liners.

Back in Guernsey, he continued to operate his deckchair business for a while and then became involved in the then legal and thriving trade of diving for ormers, scallops and crays. He also helped in laying the sewage outfall at Belle Greve bay and, when the diving ban came in, he worked for Kenitex, a texture-coated spraying company, before starting his own business.

Shooting stayed with Francis and led to him competing in four Commonwealth Games and countless Island Games.

‘I was never any good at football, but I was always good at shooting,’ he said.

Travelling to his first Commonwealth Games in Edmonton, he shared the outgoing aircraft with a then-unknown Daley Thompson.

On the way back from Canada, he and fellow shooters Steve Brehaut, Bob Brouard and John Jackson talked about the need for better facilities in Guernsey if the local sport was to progress. The conversation ended up being the inspiration for the purpose-built clay target range at Portinfer.

‘Doc Best was the driving force in getting it off the ground at Portinfer, which was an old quarry and a waste dump for toxic paint tins.’

Four years later, Francis was again on his way to the Commonwealth Games, this time to Brisbane. But he wouldn’t take a single shot – slipping on the aircraft steps at Singapore, he jarred his back. On arrival in Queensland he was admitted to hospital with a slipped disc and spent the whole two weeks in bed.

Although shooting was his enduring love, Francis was passionate about all sport and believed that the Island Games is the most important thing that has happened to Guernsey sport.

‘It’s the single biggest influence,’ he said. ‘It has lifted standards across the board.’

Throughout his life Francis put a lot back into sport – as president of the Guernsey Sports Council, the Guernsey Squash Rackets Association and the Guernsey Clay Target Shooting Club, as well as having a seat on the Sports Commission.

He first became involved in politics in 2000.

‘In my 20s I would not have been able to name one island politician,’ he admitted. ‘But I got into politics through the sports council, through which I had an automatic seat on the Outside Areas Committee.’

As befits a popular public figure, many accolades poured in after Francis’s death was announced, but perhaps the most succinct and all-encompassing was from Guernsey Police deputy chief officer Nigel Taylor.

‘We were very sorry to learn of the tragic loss of former deputy Francis Quin. Having worked with him during his time on Home, my overriding memory is of his ceaseless smile, tireless community spirit and ever-present positive outlook. He was a true gentleman. He will be truly missed by all who knew him within Law Enforcement but his legacy will live on every year at our awards ceremony, where we present the Francis Quin Trophy for Outstanding Teamwork.’

Shaun Shackleton

By Shaun Shackleton
Features reporter

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