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Former Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco has died

Family: It was her dying wish that she be remembered for her faith in God, commitment to family and love of Louisiana.
Posted at 3:51 PM, Aug 18, 2019

Former Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco has died.

Blanco, 76, died after a lengthy and spirited battle with cancer.

She was Louisiana's first female governor. She also was the first female to be elected to the Louisiana Legislature from Lafayette, and was two of only five women when she got there. She also was the first female elected to the state Public Service Commissioner, and when she got there she was the first woman to be elected chair of the body.

Here's a post from one of her daughters:

Greg Davis, the retired director of the Cajundome, remembered Blanco as a compassionate and strong leader during the days following Katrina - and days after that, Rita.

"I've always known Governor Blanco to be a person of great human compassion, and that was manifested more than ever in her response to Hurricanes Katrina and Rita," Davis said.

In the hours after the levees broke and New Orleans was inundated, Blanco asked Davis to open the Cajundome as a shelter. No one knew then that many of the evacuees who came there - some with just the clothes on their backs - would remain for months. Some would leave the Cajundome without ever returning to New Orleans.

Those evacuees were "stereotyped as people we should fear, run away from and not want to help. Our governor took another approach. She said these are our fellow Louisiana citizens, and we are going to help them, and provide all of the help and services they need at the time when they are responding to one of the worst tragedies to hit Louisiana, if not the country," Davis said. "She showed us how to respond and how to treat fellow Louisiana citizens when they were at their most vulnerable."

Davis said that, in addition to being a trailblazer for women in politics, she also was a trailblazer in education reform. But most of all, she was a person who tried to help others.

"All of her children are just like her - she taught them to be people who went out into the community and give of themselves, to be of service to other people," Davis said. "She was certainly a role model for lots of young people, especially young ladies, that they can achieve at the highest level. She was an example of that, an example for us all, that service to the community, working very hard at it, having the courage to step out and be a leader to bring about crucial change in areas where people were not willing to do it - she was willing to go there. In that regard, she was a leader - for all of us."

Gov. John Bel Edwards issued the following statement:

“Governor Kathleen Babineaux Blanco peacefully passed away on August 18, 2019 at St. Joseph’s Hospice Carpenter House in Lafayette, Louisiana, surrounded by her beloved husband Raymond, her children and family.

She was a woman of grace, faith and hope. She has left an eternal mark on all who knew her, because she was generous and unconditional in her love, warm in her embrace and genuinely interested in the welfare of others.

While she knew that her name would forever be linked with Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, it was her dying wish that she be remembered for her faith in God, commitment to family and love of Louisiana.

As Louisiana's first female governor, her prestigious career cannot be separated from her faith and family - all are intertwined. In her words, her public service provided an opportunity for her “to be the voice of the voiceless; to shape the rising tide that lifts all boats; to advocate for policies and changes that make good common sense; and to have a positive impact on the lives of all people.

Our hearts are broken, but we are joyful in knowing that she is rejoicing in her heavenly reunion with Christ. Please pray for God’s peace to carry us through the coming days and months of sorrow as we mourn her absence from our lives. “

Here's the governor's press conference:

Dr. Joseph Savoie, University of Louisiana at Lafayette president issued the following statement:

"Kathleen Babineaux Blanco received a bachelor's degree in business education from the University in 1964. Her husband, Raymond, was a coach and longtime administrator. Dr. Savoie met the Blancos when he was an undergraduate at the University. His 12-year tenure as state commissioner of higher education included the four years Blanco served as governor.

"The University family is saddened by the death of one of our most distinguished graduates, former Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco.

Kathleen's career in public service was guided by an unwavering devotion to the state's citizens, whom she represented with compassion, dignity, determination and optimism. People supported Kathleen because she embodied a set of innately Louisiana values they recognized in themselves - faith, family and service to others. No one could doubt her genuine love for the state or her sincere commitment to doing all she could to make it a better place to work, to raise children, to visit, to open a business, or to seek an education.

Her support as governor for Louisiana's colleges and universities enabled institutions to rededicate themselves to their missions of research, scholarship and preparing students for lives of purpose. She worked with the Legislature to fully fund higher education for the first time in more than a quarter century; those investments helped sustain colleges and universities when financial challenges arose later.

Kathleen always concentrated on tomorrow, even as her life moved gracefully toward its close.

Last year, she worked with the University to establish the Kathleen Babineaux Blanco Public Policy Center. The independent research the center produces will examine issues Kathleen championed throughout her career: criminal justice reform, poverty and economic opportunity, governmental ethics, and education.

It will be a place where thoughtful discussions - shaped by the same sense of responsibility to future generations she personified - can occur. We can think of no better way to honor Kathleen than by working to improve our state and the lives of its residents, just as she did throughout her extraordinary career.

Gail and I join the entire University community in offering condolences to "Coach," Pilar, Karmen, Monique, Nicole, Raymond Jr., and their families. We thank them for sharing Kathleen with Louisiana, and hope that they find comfort in knowing that her legacy will live on at the University she loved and that loved her in return."

Here's a statement from Richard Zuschlag of Acadian Ambulance:

“So many emotions came to mind when I learned of the passing of Governor Kathleen Blanco. I’m filled with sadness as Elaine and I have lost a great and devoted personal friend. We extend our most heartfelt condolences to Raymond and the entire Blanco and Babineaux families.

While we grieve her passing, I find solace in knowing that her strong Catholic faith not only gave her comfort in her final days but also ensures that she will be received by the God she loved so much and served so faithfully.

Kathleen was a brilliant teacher, an astute politician, a dedicated public servant and a pioneer among women in Louisiana politics. She met all of her challenges and opportunities with skill, grace, wisdom and compassion. Our community, our state and our nation have lost an outstanding public servant.

Most importantly, Kathleen was a gracious and loving daughter, sister, wife, mother and grandmother. She loved her family and they brought her such joy.

I was always so impressed with how hard Kathleen worked in whatever she was doing. In her rise from the legislature, to the Public Service Commission, to the Lt. Governor’s office and finally to the Governor’s Mansion, Kathleen remained devoted to helping all of the citizens of Louisiana. Whether it was an initiative to help the poorest of our state or a business development project, Kathleen remained steadfast in doing what she felt was in the best interest of our state.

Even in the darkest times following hurricanes Katrina and Rita, her strength and resolve inspired me and countless others as she led us to recovery.

While Kathleen may always be remembered as our first female governor or for her many other public achievements, I will always remember her as a loving friend and a compassionate leader.”

State Rep. Sam Jones, the retired mayor of Franklin who also who worked for Blanco when she was governor, issued the following statement:

"I am deeply sorry for for the loss of my great friend Kathleen Babineaux Blanco but grateful for the time she had with us and relieved that her suffering is now done. For everyone of us who has an ounce of Cajun blood in them she was the Evangeline of our time.

"I am able to write those words but can't seem to say them without tears."

Here's the statement from the Louisiana Democratic Party Chair Sen. Karen Carter Peterson:

“Gov. Blanco was a trailblazer - she destroyed glass ceilings, fiercely defended the most vulnerable, and was a true Louisianian at heart who loved her home. The policies she fought for and the way she treated those around her reflected her values, morals, and love for Louisiana in every way. Whether it was rebuilding New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina or fighting to invest in our children’s education, she showed unwavering resolve in the face of our state’s biggest struggles. Her strength and compassion inspired me, and I know countless Louisianians and women around the country feel the same. We lost a true champion for our state today, but her legacy and work lives on for generations.”

And from Stephen Handwerk, Executive Director of the party:

“I’m devastated to hear about the passing of Gov. Blanco. As governor, she led Louisiana through some of the hardest times in our state’s history with grace, strength, and compassion. Through her years of public service, she never forgot why she ran for office in the first place: to make the lives of others better. And she did just that. Every Louisianian is better for her time leading our great state.”

New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell issued the following statement:

"I am deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Gov. Kathleen Blanco, a woman whose leadership was an inspiration and a strength for the people of New Orleans and for all of Louisiana. Knowing this day was imminent does not make the loss any easier to bear. As the first female governor of Louisiana, she accomplished more in one term than most men did in two. We are grateful for her service and thankful for her leadership. Our love and our prayers go out to her family and to her loved ones. The City of New Orleans will always hold her in our hearts and in our memories. May she rest in God’s perfect peace."

The tributes began on social media almost immediately: