Remarks by Dr. Kim Hunter Reed, deputy chief of staff under Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco and current state commissioner of higher education, at Thursday’s Interfaith Service in Baton Rouge honoring Blanco. Transcript provided by Gov. John Bel Edwards’ office.
“A Mother’s Love.
Devoted, protective, ever present and ever uplifting,
It is nurturing and never ending.
Kathleen Babineaux Blanco — felt a mother’s love from the woman who gave her life.
She shared a mother’s love with her children, grandchildren, with those of us who worked for her and with her. And yes, she had a mother’s love for her Louisiana.
She celebrated our joy, wiped our tears when we hurt, dreamed of what could be and worked tirelessly to improve our reality. Like the mother pelican on our state flag — she was willing to sacrifice for her Louisiana.
Today we gather to celebrate her life. A wife, daughter, mother, grandmother, teacher, and a trailblazer – for the first time in the history of our state, Louisiana called on one of her daughter’s to lead – and lead she did.
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.
I am honored to share the experience of so many in this church having worked directly for her and with her. During that experience I learned about Blanco values, Blanco time, Blanco blue … and yes, that Blanco force — COACH!
She was an advocate for education. She believed that it was within her grasp to move people from poverty to prosperity with access to better health care, education and employment.
For many of us the last time we gathered together in this Cathedral was to celebrate her inauguration — an exciting new dawn. Today we gather to celebrate a life well lived — as her beautiful sun has set. That sun that provided light in good times and warmth in challenging times.
She played the hand she was dealt, often improving on it.
When she was criticized as having a heavy hand and negatively referred to as a “queen bee” — she joyfully embraced that and the queen bee jewelry appeared.
If she called you in for a chat, she could easily get a yes out of a weary employee who minutes before was definitely prepared and practicing to say no.
She believed in good “common sense” solutions, was a proud penny pincher and was determined to get things done based on facts, data, sound arguments and good policy. The kind of work that the policy center that bears her name at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette now carries the torch to advance.
As a former teacher — she set out to increase educational opportunities- bringing higher education funding to a record high and teacher pay as well. She created Louisiana’s need-based aid program to expand opportunities for more college bound students in our state. Because she believed as she often stated that — education is poverty’s mortal enemy.
She gave voice to those who were rarely heard or seen or considered with little consideration of the political consequences. For her good politics was what was good for the people.
Kathleen was in every way a servant leader.
“In my heart I always understood God was preparing me for unknown challenges and of course those challenges came, she said. God puts you where he wants you to be.”
Her faith is her legacy. It anchored her in times of storm – burying a child, carrying the weight of a state recovery after not just one but two back to back mega-storms and yes facing her own mortality which she did with grace, courage and a deep sense of peace.
It was just like Kathleen to share the news of her illness in a way that rallied Louisiana – this time to prayer. She did not say I’m in the fight of my life with anxiety and an urgent request for prayers. …
No her letter was first a thank you to the people of Louisiana, it was a testament to her belief in the power of prayers and a simple request — I would deeply appreciate it, if you should see fit, that you offer prayers on behalf of myself as well as all others fighting to survive life threatening illnesses.
Not a request solely about self, not written to gain sympathy but a testament to the power of people and prayer.
When I visited her again last week while weakened from her cancer fight, she smiled and lifted her arms so that I could get one last great hug. She quizzed me about my daughter and of my wor … and of course I had to remind her that I was there to check on her – it was a special visit.
On August 18th at 2:54pm our 54th governor was called home having hung on to celebrate her 55th wedding anniversary and coach’s birthday last week.
It is said that parents give us two things — roots and wings
Like a mighty oak…Kathleen has left us with deep roots, the kind that are common in our Louisiana – roots that ground our work, anchor our moral compass and tie us to this place that we call home.
She has also given us wings to soar to new heights – seeking to lift as we climb- to carry the torch of service as advocates for education, and champions for children.
Louisiana is a better place because Kathleen Babineaux Blanco served and sacrificed, lived and loved.
Thank you governor for giving it your all. We love you and we miss you.
May she Rest in Peace.”