BEARDEN, Ark. – Francine Worthen is described as “larger than life,” a retired special education paraprofessional who inspired hundreds of kids in Bearden public schools.
“I can’t tell you the amount of times that former students would come by after she retired a few years ago just to say ‘hi’,” remembered her son John Worthen.
Worthen’s favorite memory is their annual Mardi Gras trip. The duo would drive down to New Orleans every year for the festivities.
“We were down there catching beads in all the ruckus and all the activity, and she just loved life,” he said.
Francine became one of the nearly 3,000 Arkansans who lost their lives to COVID-19. She passed away on December 5, after appearing to show signs of improvement.
Worthen says the pain of her death is still heartbreakingly fresh.
“The last memory I have of my mom is them carting her off from our house,” he said, “and we never got to see her again.”
While his mom may be gone, Worthen is determined to keep her memory alive and continue to touch the lives of children in need. The family started a memorial scholarship in Francine’s honor, hoping to raise money for Bearden students with special needs.
“That’s one thing that we wanted to kind of help with in mom’s name,” he said, “because she cared so much for those kids.”
Worthen and his family hope to raise $1,500 for the scholarship each year, and he believes the annual scholarship is not just a memorial to his mom, but a way to remember all those we have lost.
“[It’s] just in memory of everyone who has lost their lives to this insidious disease.”
Worthen also has a message to Arkansans: now more than ever, it’s important to take care of each other and protect those most vulnerable to the virus.
“I just cannot stress how vitally important it is,” he said. “It’s life or death.”