Frances Jacqueline Blakney, 87, of North Philadelphia, a social-services worker for 35 years and a church and civic volunteer, died Wednesday, Nov. 7, of complications from liver cancer at Chestnut Hill Hospital.
Mrs. Blakney was diagnosed with the disease in 2010, but with treatment, the cancer went into remission, said her son, Ralph Preston Blakney. It returned this June.
Born in Reading, Mrs. Blakney moved to Philadelphia to be with family, and was educated in the city's public schools. She had a beautiful soprano voice that soared above the others when she sang with the choir at the United Methodist Church in North Philadelphia. While performing in her late teens, she attracted the attention of a group of visiting church elders.
"They were so impressed that they said she has to go further because of how well she sings," her son said.
The United Methodist Church paid the tuition for her freshman year at the National College for Christian Workers in Kansas City, Mo. Relying on odd jobs to survive financially for the next three years, Mrs. Blakney earned a bachelor's degree from the college in 1954 at age 23.
Mrs. Blakney told her family that during her hunt for her first job, she encountered racial bias. "A woman called her in for an interview," her son said, "and when she got there, the woman said, 'Oh, I thought you were white. If I had known, I wouldn't have called you in. Everyone who works here is white, and the clients are white.'
"My mother didn't get the job," her son said. "The woman was nice about it — she paid her for the day. My mother had a long career in social services, but it had a very rocky start."
Starting in 1960, Mrs. Blakney worked for five years as a social-services caseworker for the Philadelphia Department of Public Welfare. For the next 30 years, she directed programs for the Crime Prevention Association and Boys and Girls Club programs that the association ran at that time. She retired in 1996.
Outside the office, Mrs. Blakney volunteered as director of the young adults group at the Belmont-Southwest YWCA and as center director for the United Neighbors Association, both in Philadelphia.
She also volunteered with the Martin Luther King Older Adult Center, the Eastern Pennsylvania Conference of the United Methodist Church, and the Methodist Commission on Religion and Race. She used her singing as a fundraising tool as well, performing 20 concerts to benefit churches, youth organizations, and community groups.
Mrs. Blakney was honored by the United Methodist Church in Philadelphia and New York. She received the Harry Hosier Award from the Methodist Church's Committee on Inclusiveness. She received the Bronze Keystone Award from the Boys and Girls Clubs of America and a service certificate from the Crime Prevention Association.
One of her proudest moments was singing the national anthem during a New York Boys and Girls Club conference at which former U.S. Rep. Shirley Chisholm, the first African American woman elected to Congress, was the keynote speaker, her son said.
She was a longtime member of Mount Zion United Methodist Church, where she served as church school superintendent, director of the children's choir, and district delegate to the annual conference of the United Methodist Church. She joined Enon Tabernacle Baptist Church in 2009 and loved it, her son said.
Her granddaughter Niara J. Blakney said Mrs. Blakney sent her a letter with some money in it each week during her college years. "She always wanted to give what she had," her granddaughter said. "She sent out cards every single holiday to her friends, my dad's friend, and my friends. I was lucky to have known her as long as I did."
Mrs. Blakney was married to Joysie Blakney, who died in 2002. Another son,William Martin Blakney, died in 1992.
In addition to her son and granddaughter, she is survived by another granddaughter, a brother, nieces and nephews, and a large extended family.
Services were Friday, Nov. 16.