Neighbors say goodbye to historical icon


From the Dallas Historical Society

Francis James was appointed to the Dallas County Historical Commission in 1983 by County Judge Frank Crowley.
Photo courtesy of the Dallas Historical Society

Frances James’ passion was the protection of the historic cemeteries in Dallas County, including compiling historic information into several volumes of books. She became known as “The Cemetery Lady.” However, she also actively supported the preservation of buildings, historic sites and history in Dallas, Dallas County and other places in Texas. James died suddenly Saturday night at the age of 96. 

James served on Dallas’ Landmark Commission, Dallas County Historic Commission (each for multiple terms) and was active in many local preservation organizations, far too many to count! In her words, on how she came to be Dallas’ “Cemetery Lady” (she never minded the moniker) she said this: “In 1979 after I had retired from 27 years with SWBell Telephone Co. I helped clean up a neglected cemetery in our neighborhood. As we pulled up the vines and hauled off the beer cans and old license plates, I could see the dates on the old headstones. I investigated how to apply for a Texas Historical Marker. I learned the hard way — after typing it over 11 times (pre computers). We dedicated that marker in 1983. Since then I have researched and helped many others compile the necessary information for many more markers in Dallas County. This sparked my interest in history, and I was appointed to the Dallas County Historical Commission in 1983 by County Judge Frank Crowley and served six years, most of the time as marker chairman.”

All of us at Dallas Historical Society are sad to hear of her passing over the weekend. We are grateful for her contributions to our organization through her 10 years of leading countless bus tours. She was chosen as the Dallas Historical Society’s 2019 Awards for Excellence in History recipient, which was to be given to her in November at the annual luncheon. A couple of weeks ago we were able to get her acceptance speech recorded for the luncheon video, which will be shown at the November luncheon. Frances, a third-generation Dallasite, will be missed by all who knew her; it will be hard to find a replacement who has the knowledge and tireless determination she had to help keep Dallas cemeteries and other historical buildings intact, respecting those that have come before us and allowing future generations to know the history of this beautiful city.

James is survived by daughter Frances Ann Blackley; grandchildren Cook, Julie Kline, Jennifer L. Blackley and Steven Reece; five great-grandchildren and four great-great-grandchildren.

A memorial will be held at a later date. Her family said The Cemetery Lady will be cremated, and her ashes spread off the coast of Carmel, Calif.