BATON ROUGE — Celebration of Life services began Thursday, August 22 in Baton Rouge for Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco.
An honor procession was held on the steps of the Louisiana State Capitol. Louisiana State Police Honor Guard, the Louisiana National Guard and the members Governor Blanco’s former protective service detail carried her casket up the front steps, which was lined by members of her cabinet and staff.
The Louisiana National Guard gave a 21 gun salute and Taps was played.
Services started 10:00 am and aired LIVE on KATC, KATC.com, and the KATC app.
WATCH this morning's hour-long service at St. Joseph Cathedral below.
BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) - Louisiana's first and only female governor, Kathleen Babineaux Blanco, will return to the state's ornate Capitol building for her last time Thursday, with her casket carried in to the sound of a 21-gun salute honoring her service.
Mourners are expected to pack the building to pay their last respects to the Democrat who led Louisiana during the massive blows of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005 and who died Sunday after a yearslong struggle with cancer. She was 76.
Public visitation at the Louisiana Capitol follows a morning interfaith service held in a downtown Baton Rouge cathedral to memorialize Blanco, the start of three days of events for the former governor. The service was filled with former and current Louisiana officials, including Blanco's close friend, Gov. John Bel Edwards.
"Kathleen's faith, life experiences and genuine concern for others allowed her to connect on a deeply personal level with nearly every person she met," Edwards said.
He described Blanco as a woman who understood the beauty and hardships of life.
"She led Louisiana through some of its darkest days. And as a believer in divine providence, she would tell you she knew she was put in that position for a reason. And I believe that," said Edwards, whose voice cracked as he spoke of his mentor.
Blanco served one term as governor, from 2004-08. But she was a fixture in Louisiana politics for decades, winning elections to the state House, the state utility regulatory agency and the lieutenant governor's seat before reaching the top job. She died from a rare eye cancer that she battled successfully in 2011 but that later returned and spread to her liver.
"A woman of many firsts, Kathleen launched many leaders into public service and nurtured new and aspiring leaders until the end - with sound advice, a listening ear and lots of encouragement," said Commissioner of Higher Education Kim Hunter Reed, who worked as Blanco's deputy chief of staff.
The morning service included prayers and readings across many faiths, hymns and poetry. Blanco's grandchildren served as pallbearers, bringing the closed silver casket bearing the former governor to the front of the cathedral, where Edwards helped to drape it in a Louisiana state flag.
Later Thursday, Blanco's casket will be brought into the Capitol, where her one-time staff members and Cabinet secretaries will line the front steps as her former state police bodyguards carry the casket into the building amid a military salute.
Blanco's body will lie in Memorial Hall for public visitation Thursday afternoon, with the former governor's husband, 99-year-old mother and five living children among those who will greet the public.
Those waiting in line to offer condolences will wind through displays of campaign memorabilia, framed newspaper articles, family photos and religious artifacts that Blanco, a devout Catholic, treasured.
The red suit Blanco wore at her inauguration is on display, along with her wedding photo. Nearby is a photo of her son Ben, who died in 1997 in an industrial accident at the age of 19, along with the candle from his funeral.
In a surprising political twist, the memorial display features a handwritten letter from former President George W. Bush, with whom Blanco repeatedly clashed after Katrina, as the Bush administration sought to blame Louisiana's governor for the slow rescue response.
Bush wrote the letter on Dec. 11, 2017, a day after Blanco publicly announced her incurable cancer diagnosis in a newspaper column written to Louisiana's residents.
"Dear Kathleen, I have just read your beautiful column to the citizens of Louisiana," Bush wrote. "Your words were profound and touching. Laura and I will join the thousands who will pray for your strength and comfort. May God bless you and your family."
Blanco will be buried Saturday in Lafayette, in the heart of the Cajun region where she was born and raised, after a Friday prayer service in the city and a Saturday funeral Mass.
The former governor's casket was escorted from Lafayette to Baton Rouge on Thursday morning by Louisiana State Police. Morning services took place at St. Joseph Cathedral in Baton Rouge. During the ceremony, Governor Blanco was eulogized by Governor John Bel Edwards and Kim Hunter Reed, who served as Blanco's deputy chief of staff and now is Louisiana's Commissioner of Higher Education.
An Honor Procession on the steps of the U.S. Capitol Building followed the service.
Blanco will lie in state in the Capitol Rotunda with public visitation taking place from 1:00 pm to 6:00 pm on Thursday
On Saturday, visitation will continue in Lafayette at St. John the Evangelist Cathedral.
Below is a full schedule of Thursday's services.
TIMES OF NOTE: THURSDAY, AUGUST 22
Please note that times are approximate. For an overview of the three-day celebration, click here [gov.louisiana.gov] .
9:30 a.m. Gathering
Music will begin inside of St. Joseph Cathedral.
Southern University Gospel Choir will perform “Every Praise” and “Total Praise.”
St. Aloysius School Performance Choir will perform “You Are My Sunshine.”
Family of Governor Blanco greets hearse outside in front of St. Joseph Cathedral in downtown Baton Rouge.
As the procession of clergy, pallbearers and family members enter St. Joseph Cathedral, the gathering hymn will be “Praise to the Lord Almighty.”
10 a.m. – 11:15 a.m. Interfaith Service
Welcome by Archbishop Gregory Aymond.
Louisiana salute and draping of the Louisiana State Flag by Louisiana State Police Honor Guard and Governor John Bel Edwards.
Opening Prayer by Bishop Michael Duca.
Reading of Psalm 23 in Hebrew and English by Rabbi Barry Weinstein and Rev. Jennifer Jones.
Reflection No. 1, by Dr. Kim Hunter Reed, current Commissioner of Higher Education and former Deputy Chief of Staff to Governor Blanco.
Song by the Southern University Gospel Choir, “I Shall Wear a Crown.”
Reading from the Quran in Arabic and English by Jane Aslam of the Islamic Center and Rev. Herman Kelly.
Readings from the New Testament by Rev. Raymond Jetson and Rev. Sharon Alexander.
Reading of the poem “The Governance of Power” by former Poet Laureate Darrell Bourque.
Song by the St Aloysius School Performance Choir, “This Little Light of Mine.”
Reflection No. 2 by Governor John Bel Edwards.
Archbishop Aymond invites all to stand for a Litany for Louisiana, similar to one that was recited as part of Governor Blanco’s inauguration celebration.
Rev. Leo Cyrus and Rev. Van Stinson will begin the Litany for Louisiana. Readers for the litany will include: Sam Jones, John Breaux, Walt Leger, Jr., Jimmy Clarke, Gayle Benson, Dale Atkins, Renae Connelly and Erin Mosley.
Archbishop Aymond will conclude the litany.
Rev. Robin McCullough Bade will offer a closing prayer.
State Troopers will remove the Louisiana state flag from the casket and fold it. Governor John Bel Edwards will receive the folded flag and present it to Raymond “Coach” Blanco, the former governor’s husband.
Southern University Gospel Choir will lead those assembled in the closing song, Amazing Grace.
Clergy, pallbearers and family will process from St. Joseph Cathedral.
Following the Interfaith Service, a vehicle procession of Louisiana State Police vehicles will escort the casket and the Blanco family to the Louisiana State Capitol.
12:30 p.m. to 12:45 p.m. Honor Procession
Governor Blanco will arrive at the Louisiana State Capitol, driven by Louisiana State Police, followed by family.
Louisiana State Police Honor Guard, the Louisiana National Guard and the members Governor Blanco’s former protective service detail will carry her casket up the front steps, which will be lined by members of her cabinet and staff.
Stopping midway up the steps, the Louisiana National Guard will give her a 21 gun salute and Taps will be played.
Waiting for her casket at the top of the front steps will be her husband Raymond “Coach” Blanco, her mother Lucille Babineaux, Governor John Bel Edwards and First Lady Donna Edwards, Senate President John Alario and House Speaker Taylor Barras.
Upon entering the State Capitol, Governor Blanco’s casket will be arranged and prepared for visitation.
1 p.m. to 6 p.m. Governor Blanco Lies in State
The Blanco family will receive visitors in the Louisiana State Capitol Rotunda. Governor John Bel Edwards and First Lady Donna Edwards will begin the visitation, around 1 p.m.
Visitors should enter through the ground floor of the Louisiana State Capitol, where they will be screened by security and routed through to the Rotunda. Bags larger than a small purse will not be allowed.
Below is information for the public who will be attending these services
In lieu of flowers, the Blanco family requests that donations be made to the Governor Kathleen Blanco Public Policy Center, via the University of Louisiana - Lafayette Foundation, 705 East St. Mary Blvd, Lafayette, LA 70504 or online at Give.louisiana.edu.
Free parking for the public visitation will be available in the Welcome Center Parking Garage at 101 North Street, Baton Rouge, La. 70802 beginning at 12:00 p.m. Additional free public parking will be available along River Road across from the Claiborne Building.
Parking may be limited and visitors are encouraged to carpool.
Visitors to the State Capitol for the public visitation, which begins at 1 p.m., should enter through the Ground Floor, where they will be screened by security. This will allow lines to form inside of the State Capitol.
Access to the State Capitol front steps and front doors will be limited on Thursday.
Seating will not be available for those waiting in line for visitation.
Anyone who is in line as visitation ends at 6 p.m. will be welcomed by the Blanco family.
All visitors will be screened by State Capitol security staff. No bags larger than a small purse will be allowed inside any of the locations.
Seating for the public will be very limited for Thursday’s Interfaith Service at St. Joseph Cathedral in Baton Rouge and standing room will not be allowed inside of the Cathedral.
The Interfaith Service and other parts of the Celebration of Life will be broadcast live and streamed online at www.LPB.org/live [gov.louisiana.gov] by Louisiana Public Broadcasting so that all may watch the service.