Iberia Parish lost a favored -- perhaps its most favored -- daughter Sunday afternoon when former state governor Kathleen Babineaux Blanco passed away after a courageous battle against cancer.
“Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco peacefully passed away on Aug. 18, 2019 at St. Joseph’s Hospice Carpenter House in Lafayette, Louisiana, surrounded by her beloved husband Raymond, her children and family,” read a statement from Blanco’s family, released through Gov. John Bel Edwards’ office. “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. “
Details regarding services to celebrate her life and legacy will be issued in the coming days.
“Serving as this state’s first female governor, Kathleen was a trailblazer and broke many barriers, leading the way for others to follow,” Edwards said in a statement. “She stands among the giants who have helped shape Louisiana’s history. Kathleen loved this state and our people and was a shining example of what can be accomplished by hard work and determination.
“She led Louisiana through one of our darkest hours, when hurricanes and the failure of the federal levee system devastated much of our state. I hope history will remember Governor Blanco as a tireless advocate for Louisiana, who fought fiercely for our state to rebuild following Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.
“Louisianans owe a debt of gratitude to Governor Blanco, who always put the people of our state first, fighting to improve the quality of life for our families and children, championing better educational opportunities for all students at every level and building a stronger Louisiana. In 2004, she said: “I feel that call to lift up the less fortunate, the call to improve our communities and our state. It drives me to serve Louisiana as governor.
“Donna and I hope you will join your prayers to ours for her husband Raymond ‘Coach’ and their family and friends. May God bless them all during this difficult time.”
Kathleen Babineaux Blanco became the first woman to serve as governor of Louisiana on Jan. 12, 2004, when she was sworn in as the state’s 54th leader. In her long, distinguished career, Blanco served the people with a vision of creating a new Louisiana, filled with hope and opportunity for all citizens.
A champion for Louisiana’s children and families, Blanco’s top priorities during her administration were providing affordable, accessible healthcare, improving the state's education system and creating a strong and vibrant economy. She led Louisiana’s recovery from hurricanes Katrina and Rita and the failure of the federal levees in New Orleans, fighting for and winning increased funding for rebuilding to help bring Louisianans back, to rebuild their homes and reopen their businesses and to reconstruct billions worth of damaged infrastructure.
Before serving in the state's top office, Blanco completed two terms as lieutenant governor, focusing on increasing tourism to the state.
Always a trailblazer, she began her career as a public servant in 1984, when she became the first woman ever elected to represent the people of Lafayette in the state legislature. Five years later she was elected to the Public Service Commission, where she became the first woman to serve as a commissioner and, later, as the first woman to chair the commission.
Before joining the public sector, Blanco taught at Breaux Bridge High School, not far from the community of Coteau, where she was born. She received a B.S. degree in Business Education from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette.
She married her husband Raymond in 1964. Together, they raised six children and were the proud grandparents of 13 grandchildren.
“Gov. Blanco conducted herself with class and grace,” said U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy. “She loved and served Louisiana. She will be missed. Condolences to Coach and her children.”
Joseph Savoie, University of Louisiana at Lafayette president, said he 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.
“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,” Savoie said in a statement Sunday. “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.