Former La. Gov. Kathleen Blanco’s Interfaith Service was full of dignitaries and friends who honored the first female governor of the state.
Dr. Reed said “Louisiana is a better place because of former Gov. Kathleen Blanco.”
Governor John Bel Edwards spoke from the pulpit about the former governor in glowing terms:
Distinguished guests, former Governor Jindal, most especially Mrs. Babineaux, Coach and the entire Blanco family… Thank you for the honor of being able to celebrate and pay tribute to a great woman I was fortunate enough to know well and to call a mentor and a friend.
Two years before my election as governor in 2015, and long before many thought I could win, Governor Blanco invited our family to Lafayette to have supper so that my kids would hear from her children what to expect of life in the Governor’s Mansion. I don’t share this with you to highlight the election or her clairvoyance. Rather, I share this with you to highlight her generous spirit. She personally spent time with each of our children.
That night, she also spoke to me about the need to focus on the least fortunate and most vulnerable in Louisiana. She did not cite Matthew 25, but I knew that passage greatly influenced her: “Master, when did I see you hungry, thirsty, naked, sick, or in prison.”
This deep and abiding love for the people of our state made her a special leader – authentic, consistent and sincere.
We all know that Kathleen Babineaux Blanco was the first woman to hold the office of governor of Louisiana. And she certainly won’t be the last. 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. Every person here believes that Kathleen knew and loved them individually – and all of you are right.
She was a true Cajun who was born in Iberia Parish. She was a mother who knew the joy of raising six children. But at the same time, she was a mother who knew the unimaginable heartbreak of losing a child. A devout Catholic, she leaned on her faith for guidance and comfort.
She was the sum of her cumulative experiences, but so much more. She was a stay-at-home mom. A teacher. A public service commissioner. A state representative. A Lt. Governor. And, yes, she was the 54th Governor of the great state of Louisiana.
She was a good and decent person who understood people because she understood life – its beauty as well as its hardships.
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. I believe that. I also believe she was meant to be governor of this great state for many other reasons.
There was one group who needed her passionate and compassionate leadership more than any other: Louisiana’s children.
Some might say that being a teacher or being a mother is what sparked her love of children. Certainly, that is the case. But I know that her devotion to the wellbeing of children ran much deeper. She saw every child as a child of God and a brother or sister in Christ, and accordingly, she felt the responsibility to care for them as if they were her own.
It is fitting that just before I got up to speak the children’s choir performed “This Little Light of Mine” because that is what she wanted for every child – for their light to shine into a brighter future. A future where the quality of their education is not contingent on their zip codes. A future where no parent ever needs to wonder how to pay for their child’s doctor’s visit.
A future where a child from even the most modest of means and the most challenging of circumstances can grow up in a world filled with opportunity – including the opportunity to be governor.
On July 2, Donna and I attended a ceremony in Lafayette to name a section of US Highway 90 the Governor Kathleen Babineaux Blanco Highway. She and Coach were so excited about it. A couple of weeks ago, I returned to Lafayette to see her at St. Joseph Hospice. As soon as I approached her she opened her eyes, looked right at me and asked if I had another highway to name for her. She then smiled and laughed.
In addition to her sense of humor and contagious optimism, one of the things I will cherish most about Kathleen is that she never stopped fighting for the people of this state. For example, she knew that their wellbeing is intrinsically tied to the wellbeing of critical institutions such as our universities and hospitals.
So while literally fighting for her life, she, with Coach by her side, also fought to adequately fund ULL and University Hospital in Lafayette when the fiscal cliff threatened their viability.
Kathleen once said, “My values, our values, aren’t about pointing fingers. They are about offering a helping hand.” That is the very embodiment of what it means to be a true Louisianan.
I wish that we could have had her sage counsel and loving generosity for many more years. I wish it for this state, I wish it for me, and I wish it for the incredible family that she and Coach created.
But let’s commit here and now to focus not on the void created by her passing, but to forever treasure the blessing that she was, and let’s give thanks to God for the many beautiful ways she enriched our lives and our state.
Perhaps the greatest gift any of us can ask for is to be able to say at the end of our days, as the powerful hymn goes, “it is well, it is well, with my soul.” Kathleen had that opportunity. She found peace.
And I hope that part of her peace was knowing that she can trust us to continue her legacy of caring for the people of this beautiful state that she so proudly served and that she so dearly loved. So let’s honor her by doing just that. God bless.”