Francine Justa

    • Fran's Childhood

    • Fran moves to Miami Beach

    • Fran moves to Brooklyn

    • JAN 20

      Fran gets her first letter from her father

    • OCT 31

      Fran and Moe have their first date

    • JUN 24

      Fran Marries Moe

    • Fran's first brush with community organizing

    • OCT

      Sarah is born!

    • Fran Leads the Fifth Avenue Committee

    • Fran joins Neighborhood Housing Services

    • Parkinsons arrives as an unwelcome guest

    • Fran receives Lifetime Achievement Award

  • Fran's Childhood

    Fran was born in Richmond, Virginia.

    Fran's mother struggled both economically and socially. It was difficult for a single mother in the South in the 1940s. Being Jewish in that community also didn't endear you to your classmates or neighbors.

    Fran told me of the problems she experienced as a Jewish kid without a father growing up in Richmond. She said it was difficult, almost torturous, being excluded from so many social activities. She did say that her Hebrew School experiences were joyous. She remembers the names of her Rabbi and Cantor and loved the care and accolades they showered on her whenever she did well. And she tried to do well for them. She always documented her "achievements" or retained evidence of them.
    By Moe Kornbluth
  • Fran moves to Miami Beach

    While Fran was still attending high school, the firm where her mother was employed relocated to Miami Beach. And so that's where they moved. Being uprooted from familiar surroundings was difficult for Fran, but the change was good as her experiences in Miami were very different from those in Richmond.

    To start, there was a large Jewish population in Miami and she was readily welcomed by her classmates, many of whom were also Jewish. Entering the high school as a junior must not have been easy with friendships and groups already coalesced, but Fran was a "joiner" and she worked hard at being accepted.

    The only record I have of her attending Miami Beach High is her graduating class yearbook from 1960. It was called "Typhoon" and had 254 pages. There were about 510 graduating students that year. Fran's interests were listed as "Jr. Red Cross, Dean's Asstl, Cheerleader, and French Club."

    Ever thoughtful and considerate, she lists as her favorite quote: "Don't flatter yourself that friendship authorizes you to say unkind things to your neighbor."

    Most of Fran's friends' inscriptions in her yearbook reflect a genuinely positive feeling toward her. You know how difficult and obnoxious teenagers can be to one another, but her classmates spoke highly of Fran, describing how helpful she was and noting her positive attitude, grade and thoughtfulness. There were no snide remarks or underhanded compliments. They were straight-up laudatory about her. Here's a few to show you what I mean:

    Toya--'You can brighten up any room with your refreshing personality'

    Linda--'Friendly, funny, sweet, and adorable.'

    Della -- 'You are a wonderful girl and one of the sweetest I've ever known.'

    Judy--'Usually it takes time to adjust when one transfers, but not you. Without completing one year, you made the cheerleading squad and became one of the most beloved personalities to grace the halls of Beach.'
    By Moe Kornbluth
  • Fran moves to Brooklyn

    After high school, Fran enrolled at the University of Florida at Gainsville. But her mom became ill and was diagnosed as having a nervous breakdown. Fran packed up the family car and drove her north to New York, to Brooklyn, where her mother's only living relative, her brother Howard, lived. According to Fran, it was a difficult and harrowing drive as her mother kept trying to get out of the moving car. She tells of having to tie the doors of the car shut so her mother couldn't get out. When they finally arrived in Brooklyn, her mother was institutionalized at Kings County Psychiatric Hospital and Fran moved in with her Uncle Howard.

    Needing to work, Fran found a job not long after at May's Department Store in Downtown Brooklyn as a sales trainee. She then got a job as an executive secretary to the president of Holly Stores.

    There she met Leah Weisburd, someone who was to become her life long friend. I always love the story Leah tells about meeting Fran for the first time. Here it is, in Leah's words:

    "I first saw Fran when I came to work at Holly Stores. The man I was hired to work for had been in an auto accident and would be out for several weeks. They sent me to Fran to help out with the other executive departments. I walked into her office and there was this petite, pretty gal with a teased up hairdo sitting behind this big desk with tons of papers all over it. She looked up and asked me if I could type and did I know how to deal with numbers and columns. I said yes and then she had the nerve to hand me four documents and say, " I need these back in two hours perfectly done. Can you do that?" The nerve! Here I was trying to help out and she was snooty to say the least. So I about-faced and returned in one hour with the task complete and perfect. I handed them to her and she looked up at me and said, "I think we will be best friends forever!" And we were. We both lived in Brooklyn and we drove into work every day together. Of course I had to call her every morning to wake her up, and she was never ready when I arrived to pick her up. We spent many weekends socializing and she was also responsible for my going into therapy."
    By Moe Kornbluth
  • Fran gets her first letter from her father

    After Louis Justa, Fran's father, left home, he wrote to her several times but Fran never received any of them, her mother kept intercepting them and keeping them from her.

    In a first letter from her father dated January 20, 1966, he states that they "were very close at just one short period, 1947 to 1951." He acknowledges that he doesn't know Fran at all, but that when she was born it was the most "wonderful thing in the world."

    Fran later reflected on the impact of her father leaving.

    "Last night in the middle of the night I had a thought that seemed very clear at the time and that now seems muddied but worthy of review. When I was around 6 or 7, my father, who came home every Friday evening from Langley Field Air Force Base and returned every Sunday night, left to go back to the base. It was like every Sunday night, perhaps a bit more exciting because he bought us one of the first TV's in town and it was fun to watch, even if the only thing playing on Channel 6 was Santa Claus reading letters from children.

    "I didn't know it at the time but that Sunday was to be very different from the rest. He was not coming back. Had I known then I might not have sat in front of the TV but I didn't. On Friday night when it was warm enough, and Richmond was usually warm enough, I sat out on the front porch and waited for my dad who came in his uniform and rubbed me on the head as he came up the front steps to the house after parking in the driveway behind my Mom's car.

    "I loved the feeling of jumping up and turning into his back as I followed him into the house. Even after that Sunday night when he left for the last time, I waited for him on Friday nights. No one ever told me he wasn't coming back.

    "In the middle of last night, it came to me that the way I am, my style, for lack of a clearer thought, is strongly connected to the loss of my father. Oh, I saw him again. Once he visited me in Robert E. Lee Jr. High School for 15 minutes on a Tuesday during the last class before lunch, and then again, one day 13 years later, his third wife called me to come down to Las Vegas when he was. I went. We talked for two days as best you can when one of the two is dying and talks with no teeth and very little breath, and I thought we had reconciled.

    "But last night at 4:15 a.m. I knew I had not yet come to terms with the loss, even if there was a reconciliation. I always thought that most of my reticence to be completely straightforward, or brutally frank as I like to call it, was based on the fears I have resulting from my relationship with him...This morning though, I realized that nothing anybody could do to me could compare with my father leaving, nothing."

    By Moe Kornbluth
  • Fran and Moe have their first date

    Fran was dating Joe Simons, my oldest and closest friend, and they were breaking up. I had met her twice, at social gatherings of friends. Shortly after the breakup she contacted a mutual friend of ours and asked him to find out if I would go out with her. I was surprised and called Joe to find out what was going on in their relationship. He told me they were no longer dating and that I should go out with her. He praised her without reservation. He said, "She is a wonderful person. Enjoy her."

    We met up for our first date on Halloween of 1970. Six of us went to Chinatown. We went in my friend Manny Weiss's car. Fran and I hit off immediately. In the ride to the restaurant we sat jammed against each other and were attracted like magnets....

    It must have been clear right away that Fran and I were enthralled with each other.
    By Moe Kornbluth
  • Fran Marries Moe

    I will offer a thumbnail description of Fran to try and describe what made her so attractive when you would first meet her. Fran was five feet one inch tall and weighed about 120 pounds. She didn't appear threatening. She had a smile that lit up her entire face. Her eyes would glow and sparkle, her face had sincere smile wrinkles and creases, and the temperature in the room would go up by about 10 degrees. Her look was sincere, warm and inviting. She was physically beautiful, a brunette with a good figure. She also had great rhythm and grace that showed in her walk and when she would dance. She had enough energy for three people. As she grew older and matured, believe me, she became even more attractive as her appearance improved because of her successes and confidence. She was beautiful.

    I could speak for both of us but I'll stick to the first person and tell you that when I wake in the morning I am happy she is there and when we sleep at night I love the touch of her skin against mine.
    By Moe Kornbluth
  • Fran's first brush with community organizing

    We were living on Carroll street in Park Slope, Brooklyn. Fran had started on her PhD at the CUNY Graduate Center. As the spring of '73 approached, and Carroll Street came alive with people taking advantage of warmer weather, Fran took to the street. She would never hesitate in talking to people. Her sales experience taught and strengthened her so she did not take rejection personally, and she knew how to listen sincerely when other people talked about issues important to them.

    She befriended several people who had lived on the block since childhood as well as several new homeowners, "yuppies," as they were called. She quickly found what the dynamic on the block was all about. There were many tenants and homeowners who had lived on the block a long time and their connections were based on ethnic, religious, social, economic, and related sources.

    Fran is an organizer. Compulsive and detail oriented she managed to organize the first block meeting on February 18, 1973. The meeting was held in Saint Francis Xavier's auditorium and some 60 residents attended to "discuss, among other topics, neighborhood problems and determine how a block association can combat crime." Dues were set at $5 per family to support block activities and pay bills. Committees were set up about senior citizens, young people, security, sanitation, beautification and health care. Everyone at that first meeting signed on to a committee.

    The next meeting was scheduled for March 18th and was attended by over 80 people. The guest speaker was Sgt. Tartaglia, Community Affairs Officer for the NYC Police Department. He noted, "I have never seen such a large group of people for any block association meeting I have ever attended."

    That's Fran. She was so successful because she rang every doorbell on the block, talking to residents, selling them on the block association.

    She organized the first block party for July 28, 1973 into a success with raffles, a band, pot luck dinner, children rides, plant sale, food and beverages for sale. This was the first party on the block since the one held celebrating the end of World War II.

    Throughout her life Fran had learned that you fix things by recognizing that a problem exists, defining it, addressing it with input from many different sources, determining solutions and bringing resources to bear on the problem. By the end of the summer there was no person on the block who didn't know Fran and how active and involved a person she was. Our home became a meeting place for adults to discuss problems for children to relax from the problems that they faced in their homes....even if they just needed a bathroom.

    I remember coming home and seeing four children, ages six to 12 or so, sitting in the dark on the couches in our living room. I asked Fran, "What's going on?"

    "With what?" she replied.

    "There are kids sitting in our living room!"

    "Oh," she said. "They needed some quiet time. With so many other siblings it is never quiet in their homes. and sometimes their mother locks them out of the house so they can have some privacy. So I let them come here whenever they need to.:

    Showing my bias I said, "Fran, I don't know if these kids can be trusted. They could steal something, you know."

    "No they won't," she said confidently.

    And they never did.
    By Moe Kornbluth
  • Sarah is born!

    We took Lamaze classes and read many books on childbirth and child rearing. We had meetings with other expectant parents. In a way it was another project. We redid one of the parlor floor rooms for the baby's room. We borrowed a beautiful antique crib frame, purchased new bedding, recycled an old carriage and prepared the room. Freshly painted with varied colored circles on the walls and ceiling and string glued to the circles so you could mistake them for floating balloons.

    And then we had a baby girl. Sarah was born October 1976 into a loving and caring household.
    By Moe Kornbluth
  • Fran Leads the Fifth Avenue Committee

    In November 1976 there wa s afire that destroyed the homes of the famlies living at 656 and 658 Carroll Street. This fire was believed to have started in the basement of one of the buildings and was determined to be caused by an elecrical fault.But a fire was only one method among many that was used by unscrupulous landlors to force a building into vacancy....

    It was around this time that Fran read a study by the New York Public Interest Group detailing mortgage redlining that was occurring Brooklyn, "Take the Money and Redlining in Brooklyn." Several federal laws had been passed (the Home Mortgage Disclosure Act of 1975 and the Community Reinvestment Act of 1977) to make bank activity more transparent....It was clear that Brooklyn was undergoing systematic and massive disinvestments. The study showed that racially integrated areas had fewer mortgages and Park Slope was not an exception. The conclusions were that "the banks are choking the flow of credit in Brooklyn....They reinvest only a tiny percentage of their Brooklyn deposits in the same Brooklyn communities that give them their wealth."

    Fran was working on her dissertation and attending meetings about the problem. In 1978 she became the first President of the Fifth Avenue Committee. While Fran was President the organization broke ground for anew supermarket in a neighborhood bereft of a store for grocery shopping, renovated houses on Warren Street and had new housing built with an effort to maintain reasonable market rates that ran the entire length of Baltic Street between Fourth and Fifth Avenue.

    In 1998 the fifth Avenue Committee had a 20th Anniversary Party celebrating the completion of 100 buildings and 500 units of affordable housing being renovated. They honored those who inspired and struggled to make the dreams of a safe and vibrant community come to fruition. Of Fran they said:

    "She knew the challenges of trying to improve and redevelop a community like lower Park Slope while simultaneously preventing displacement and creating opportunity for low and moderate-income residents. Those early strategy sessions and years of hard work laid the foundation for the next 20 years."

    She responded by praising the other people involved. She would always be certain to mention others who were less vocal but shared in the efforts. She was selfless this way and it made me very proud.
    By Moe Kornbluth
  • 4

    Fran joins Neighborhood Housing Services

    To write about Fran's impact on people and her accomplishments at NHS wold require a book of its own, but I will try to encapsulate these achievements as best I can. When Fran arrived as the Executive Director in 1986 there were 20 people on staff. When she left they were employing more than 100 people. When she arrived, the annual budget was $800,00 and the loan portfolio of the same amount of $800,000. When she left, the annual budget was $9,000,000 with investments in neighborhoods throughout New York City of almost $200,000,000. When she started, they were a neighborhood group making neighborhood change with local support. When she departed, they had national recognition and impact.

    She devoted her life and well being to what she considered a very meaningful vocation. Helping people secure and maintain their homes and communities. She brought tremendous joy and happiness into the lives of people who had not given up hope that they could have their own home.

    What do I ean by tirelessly? Well, Fran worked a seven day work week. If she left the office earliy in the evenings it was to attend meetings. Otherwise, she always worked late and would bring work home. On weekends, if she didn't go into her office, she would work at home. Hergreeatest wish at this time was that she wouldn't have to sleep as smuch as she did so she could get more work done.

    What do I mean creatively? Fran was deidcated to helping people. To intorduce funders to the work they were doing she organized busa trips to NHS neighborhoods. She would take them into homes to meet the people that NHS served and helkped. Nothling like a happy satisfied customer telling you how much they leoved NHS and how they couldn't have fulfilled the American dream of home ownership without them to maek the sale.

    Steve Alschuler, successful in public relations, writes this about Fran:

    "I always admired the fact that, even when presented with more lucrative opportunities, she made the choice to devote her life to work that served other people. As I've been contemplating my own future and considering certain possibilities, I've often asked myself: What would FRan Just think of my doing this or that? [After making a pitch at a nonrpofit organization] I pictured Fran coming over, patting me on the shoulder, telling me I'd done a good theing -- and then telling me to get off my butt and more."

    What do I mean altruistically? Fran was always helping people. It wasnt only on the job. Her ethical and moral based was founded on treating people honestly and fairly.

    What do I mean intelligently? Well Fran was quite the intellect. She met with bank officers and CEOs and enticed them to become involved and fund NHS projects.. She taught at training sessions around the country. She wrote articles relating to housing topics in indsutry journals, magazines and newspapers. Doug Dylla, a colleague, writes of her:

    "Fran has had a huge impact on many of us in the NeighborWork network. She is a leader, a mentor, a sage, a friend, soemone we repect, love and admire.... Tiem and time again in meetings and brainstorming sessions, Fran was able to describe an exciting idea bout some remarkable future outcome. While it often seemed unreachable or unattainable at the time, the more we discussed it, the more real the goal became.

    "And yet, when she offered these ideas, it was in very gentle ways with lots of humor and respect for others. She was a consummate practitioner of the 'servant as leader' philosophy."
    By Moe Kornbluth
  • Parkinsons arrives as an unwelcome guest

    Fran kept a Parkinson's journal full if information about meetings, symptoms, doctors appointments. On August 19, 1998, she wrote, "Good day but I'll never feel good again. Hard to accept."

    But somehow she kept working and accomplished a tremendous amount. She was really brave and continued working as hard as ever, or so it seemed.

    She began to plan for a successor. She was selected to be part of a pilot class for Neighborhood Reinvestments' Achieving Excellence Series with Harvard University.. She launched a national survey studying the ownership education programs. She was appointed to the Board of Directors of the New York State Banking Department.
    By Moe Kornbluth
  • Fran receives Lifetime Achievement Award

    The New York Housing Conference and the National Housing Conference. In introducing her, Dick Parsons, the CEO of Time Warner described her many accomplishments. For instance, "in 1995 Fran created the first NHS sponsored Home Loan Center in the entire nation. Today there are 65 of these throughout the country, making it possible for tens of thousands of low income citizens to become first-time home owners." After going through more accomplishments, Parsons said:

    "This is a woman who, through her body of work, has changed the face of the country. As I thought about what I might say, that best summarizes for me what Fran is all about, I remembered something Dr. Martin Luther King, JR. once wrote while imprisoned in Birmingham, Alabama during the great movement. "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affect all indirectly."

    Fran Justa understands this beter than anyone I know, and her life has been a reflection of this understanding."
    By Moe Kornbluth