Fran Jaques was a wife, journalist, avid gardener and mother who insisted on never being called a homemaker.

Fran died this week at age 96, following a career in journalism that spanned seven decades, including three spent at The Capital, were she transformed what was formerly known as the paper’s “Women’s Section” into lively pages covering community news, cooking, home design and religion.

Diane Rey, a friend and colleague who knew Fran for more than 30 years, interviewed her for a newsletter article last summer and was struck by Fran’s insistence that she be defined by her chosen career, not the female-focused subjects she covered. “She said, ‘I am a professional journalist. I am not a housekeeper or homemaker.’” Rey recalled.

The Evening Capital, as the paper was known at the time, lost its food editor not long after Fran was hired, she told Rey. Ed Casey, the paper’s editor, looked around the newsroom, pointed at Fran and said “You’re it.”

At the time, she was one of only two women working full-time in a newsroom of 20 people, recalled Tom Marquardt, who joined the staff as a managing editor the same year Fran came onboard, and watched in awe as his colleague turned her experience feeding three children into essential journalism. “People really looked forward to that Wednesday food page,” Marquardt said.

“She saved my marriage,” said Rey, who remembers scouring the food section every Wednesday for menu ideas as a working mom in the 1980s. “I have one 1987 recipe for chicken fajitas that’s so greasy I can barely read it.”

A whole lot of work — and love — went into printing each of those recipes, Marquardt said, pointing out that Fran was working years before the internet brought viral TikTok pasta to American kitchens. Some recipes were from cookbooks, some came across the Associated Press wire, some were mailed to Fran by readers for her to test.

Because the paper was printed in only black ink for much for Fran’s tenure, “She had the unenviable task of trying to make the food pages look good,” Marquardt said. “We had to be creative, because there is nothing more unappealing than a plate of meatballs in black and white.”

Fran added to her own plate by founding the paper’s “Home of the Week,” column. Rather than spotlighting a home for sale, as most comparable features do now, Fran and a photographer would visit Anne Arundel County families and invite readers inside, whether the decor was splendorous or kitschy.

“There was pressure to include all these big expensive homes on the water,” Marquardt said, “But Fran was adamant that we should also feature ‘houses for normal people.’”

Fran and her husband Milton Jaques (pronounced “Jacks”) purchased their own house on South River in the late 1950s, enticed not by boating options, but the prospect of walking out the back door to go ice skating. Suzanne Jaques, the couple’s youngest daughter, said her parents grew to love being on the water year-round, but it was nostalgia for frozen Pennsylvania ponds that prompted them to raise a family in Anne Arundel County.

Born in Palmyra, Pennsylvania, on Nov. 9, 1927, to Herman and Eva Keeney, Frances Keeney graduated from Palmyra High School in 1945. She attended senior prom with a sophomore, her daughter said, because so many of her classmates had left to fight in World War II. She was the first in her family to attend college, earning a degree from Pennsylvania State University in 1949.

While studying at Pennsylvania State, Fran contributed to The Daily Collegian student newspaper, was a member of Delta Gamma sorority and served as secretary of Mortar Board, the senior honor society.

At her first job at a small paper in Bradford, Pennsylvania, Fran was the only woman on staff. She quickly advanced, however, and landed a job at The Patriot-News, one of the state’s largest newspapers.

“She loved being in a newsroom,” Suzanne said. “Of course, she also met my father in a newsroom, so that’s one reason why she did.”

Fran and Milton married in 1952. Two years later, the family moved to Washington so Milton could become press secretary for the late U.S. Sen. Joe Clark Jr. (Milton would soon return to journalism, becoming a political writer for The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.) After visiting one of Milton’s college friends in Edgewater Beach, the couple was smitten, and relocated to Anne Arundel County.

Fran would never move again.

She spent the 1960s and 1970s raising three children and actively volunteering with Annapolis-area community groups, including the Girl Scouts and YWCA. She was also active in First Presbyterian Church, serving both as a deacon and as the congregation’s first ordained woman elder.

Once her children were older, the newsroom beckoned. Fran joined the Capital staff in 1977 and retired in 2007 at age 80, the year after her husband died. While no longer filing weekly columns, she stayed busy reading, traveling, and volunteering through the Peer Learning Program at Anne Arundel Community College and a tutoring program at First Presbyterian.

Fran had some health issues but no serious illnesses and remained “very lucid” through her final months, Suzanne said. After her own long career at CNN, Suzanne retired and returned to the family home in 2020. Fran died in her sleep of natural causes. “At some point the body has to decide it’s time,” her daughter said.

Just a few weeks before, Fran celebrated her 96th birthday with a visit from her two-year-old great-grandaughter. Her name is Frances.

In addition to her daughter Suzanne, Fran is survived by an older daughter, the Rev. Cynthia Jaques Strickland of Pinehurst, N.C., and her husband John; a son, Andrew Jaques and his wife Susan, both of Rockville; three grandchildren; five great-grandchildren; and many nieces and nephews.

In addition to her husband and parents, Fran was preceded in death by a sister, Rita Keeney Weiler.