To know her was to love her.
And she was, by all accounts, loved by more people than she ever knew.
So when the news spread that Jeannine LeFrancis, affectionately known as Jeannie, died in a single-car crash on Thanksgiving morning, shock and sadness impacted family, friends and acquaintances from Long Valley to Livingston and beyond.
LeFrancis was the bar manager at Valley Restaurant and Pub for 13 years, a place where locals congregate regularly. And while she lived in Glen Gardner with a roommate, residents thought of LeFrancis as one of their own – a kindred spirit to trade small talk with; someone who knew your mood, favorite drink and meal – as soon as you walked in the door.
The Livingston native has been a western Morris County staple for decades. LeFrancis worked for the Brady family at the Lamplighter Restaurant in Chester for years before joining Tim Janiszewski at Valley Restaurant in 2000.
“She would do anything for anybody,” Janiszewski said about his longtime employee. “Our lives are going to be harder. Things won’t be normal here again.”
But it was what she did outside of the local watering hole that grabbed the attention of family and friends.
As one story goes, LeFrancis took in an orphaned fawn and nursed it to health as a full-grown deer before a neighbor called the authorities. If a family member was going out of town and needed a pet-sitter, Jeannie was just a phone call away.
LeFrancis was the second of five daughters, but became the eldest when her older sister died battling cancer years ago. She is now survived by three sisters.
She was constantly giving, doting on nieces, nephews and cousins. She was unmarried and didn’t have children of her own, but seemed to be everyone’s sister or relative. She was outgoing and gregarious and “never missed an opportunity to welcome you,” said Father Mike Drury, lead pastor at St. Luke Parish in Long Valley.
“She was very direct with you, and always made sure you were listening,” Drury said with a chuckle. “She called everyone by name, and was herself an identifiable person.”
While she did not attend St. Luke, Drury said he considered LeFrancis a friend for the past dozen years. It was that friendship that made Thanksgiving morning so difficult.
Drury is also the chaplain for the Long Valley First Aid Squad and Washington Township Fire Department, and was called to the scene Thursday morning.
“Once we found out it was Jeannie,” he said, “it just made that day so sad.”
Drury will be conducting LeFrancis’ funeral ceremony on Wednesday.
When she wasn’t tending bar or closing up shop at Valley Restaurant, LeFrancis could be seen volunteering her time for Schooley’s Mountain Fire Company, cooking food and helping serve during events and other fundraisers. Most of the time she wasn’t even asked to help. She just showed up and did it.
Janiszewski said LeFrancis shut off the lights at the bar at 4:12 a.m. Thursday. It was a later night than usual, as the Thanksgiving eve crowd often fills the bars locally. Police at the scene of the crash, which happened around 4:30 a.m., said road conditions weren’t a factor, but Janiszewski believes otherwise, saying he spoke with motorists who had been traveling that road and slid on black ice themselves.
“She just kept giving,” Janszewski said. “Sometimes you take that for granted, you don’t realize everything she truly did for others. You know it’s there, but you just don’t realize the magnitude of it.”
Janiszewski said plans are currently in the works to have a memorial at the restaurant. Details will be determined at a later date.
A viewing will be held for the 55-year-old at the Quinn-Hopping Funeral Home from 2 to 4 p.m. and 6 to 9 p.m. Tuesday at 145 East Mt. Pleasant Avenue in Livingston. All are invited to St. Raphael’s Church at 346 East Mt. Pleasant Avenue at 10:30 a.m. Wednesday where a funeral mass celebrating her life will take place.
Drury summed up his thoughts of everyone’s favorite bartender with the same thought they already knew.
“She would do anything to help someone out,” he said. “She brought a lot of joy to a lot of people.”