We are taking a look at past staff and their many contributions to the National Archives throughout history. Today’s staff spotlight is on Fran Brooks, who had an incredible 50-year career in the federal government, with the vast majority of it at the National Archives.
Frances “Fran” Edmonia Brooks (née Woods) was born on October 1, 1937, in Brooklyn, West Virginia.
Brooks began her long National Archives career in 1959. She had previously been a clerk/typist at the General Service Administration (GSA)—the parent organization to the National Archives at that time—and they had a reduction in force. She was given the choice of moving to another office at GSA or coming to the National Archives. Fortunately for us, she chose the National Archives and began to work in the Exhibits and Publications Division.
In the early 1960s, while working in Exhibits, Brooks volunteered to be secretary and then vice president of the National Archives and Records Service Employee Association. The organization put out a staff newsletter in which Brooks was a contributor, and in 1964 she received an award for her efforts.
When James “Bert” Rhoads was appointed Archivist of the United States in 1968, Brooks became his secretary. She was instrumental in the daily activities of the Archivist’s office—managing the schedule, overseeing correspondence, meeting and greeting all visitors, and a whole lot more.
When her daughter, Crystal, was born prematurely in 1968, both the Archivist and the Acting Deputy Archivist sent Brooks letters of congratulations—and surprise—to the hospital since they had seen her earlier that day. Brooks had just purchased a maternity dress (she was always known for her sense of style) to get her through the rest of her pregnancy; it turned out it was unneeded. Brooks kept the original letters as keepsakes with the carbon copies housed in the records of the National Archives.
In the early 1970s, while working as Rhoads’s assistant, she helped Philip C. Brooks, former longtime staff member, on the first large-scale National Archives oral history project. Over a two-year period, Philip Brooks interviewed several high-level former staff, and Fran Brooks helped coordinate the transcripts and deeds of gift. The transcripts of many of those interviews are now online.
After Rhoads retired, Brooks continued as Archivist of the United States Robert Warner’s assistant and was in the front office during the period the National Archives was securing its independence from GSA in the 1980s.
Brooks spent the last 20 years of her National Archives career in Human Resources. She was in charge of employee orientation and on-boarding, with many current NARA employees, including me, meeting her on their very first day of work. She recited the oath of office for what probably felt like a million times, as staff repeated her saying they will “support and defend the Constitution of the United States.” She was warm and bright, and made you feel welcomed to the National Archives. When her daughter, Crystal, joined the Archives in 1987, she even guided her through the orientation process.
In the 1990s, along with other NARA staff, Brooks volunteered as part of a reading program, “DC Reads,” that helped local children improve reading skills and make reading more enjoyable. Brooks said she joined the program because she thought she “could make a small difference in the life of a child who might be having problems and that volunteering for this program would be time well spent.” She said, “I was right! Even though the time spent with the kids was very short overall, I think some very warm relationships were beginning to form and, on the last day, some of us found ourselves reluctant to part.”
When Brooks retired in 2008, she not only had 50 years of federal service but she also had touched countless National Archives staff who would always remember her fondly as the first person they met at the agency. After retirement, Brooks volunteered at the Laurel Museum and enjoyed traveling with her daughter.
Fran Brooks passed away on August 29, 2019, in Maryland at the age of 81. Jim Hemphill, another longtime National Archives staff member, said upon hearing the news, “The halls were a little dimmer when she retired, and now the world has a little less light with her passing.”