Former Governor Kathleen Babineaux Blanco peacefully passed away on August 18, 2019 at St. Joseph’s Hospice Carpenter House in Lafayette, La., surrounded by her beloved husband of 55 years, Raymond Blanco, their children and other family members. The cause of death was ocular melanoma.
The woman who would become Louisiana’s first (and so far only) female governor was born on Dec. 15, 1942 in Coteau in Iberia Parish. She attended Coteau Elementary School and Mount Carmel Academy, a Catholic school for girls in New Iberia. After high school, she attended the University of Southwestern Louisiana (USL), which is now named the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. She graduated with a degree in business education and began a life-long journey as an ardent supporter of her alma mater, education and children.
She taught at Breaux Bridge High School until she married in 1964. She brought six children into this world and maintained an active family life grounded on the values of her Cajun roots, of which she was very proud. She hunted; she fished; she sold tons of Girl Scout cookies. She cooked large family meals and always had extra room at the table for friends and neighbors. Raymond pitched in with his culinary specialties: wild duck dinners and sometimes freshly caught trout that she prepared almandine.
It was while she was home juggling household and children’s needs that she began to engage in public affairs. She helped Raymond build their polling and strategy firm Coteau Consulting. She took a job with the U.S. Department of Commerce to work on the 1980 census, traveling to several southern parishes to promote participation in the upcoming census.
Local radio was her means of spreading the message, and her ability to connect with people came in handy. One day a friend happened to hear her pitch on the radio and planted a seed: her friend told the future governor that she might think about running for public office. It wasn’t until Ben, her youngest child, finished kindergarten that she put her friend’s advice into motion, and she did it the old-fashioned way — door-to-door campaigning with Ben at her side. The race was for a seat in the Legislature representing the 45th district of Louisiana in Lafayette, a city which had never before sent a female candidate to Baton Rouge. She won that election, and it was the start of her professional dedication to Louisiana public service. She served in office as a colleague others could trust, tackling adversity with hard work, honesty and humor.
She never lost track of her moral compass. She was a fiscal conservative at home and at work. In her first campaign she established a pattern that would continue throughout her time in public office: she always spent less on her campaign than her opponent. She served in the Louisiana House of Representatives from 1984 to 1988 (first woman elected from Lafayette), then in the Louisiana Public Service Commission from 1988 to 1996 (first woman elected to LPSC and first to serve as its chairwoman). She served as Lieutenant Governor from 1996 to 2004, and as Governor from 2004 to 2008.
Kathleen Babineaux Blanco 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. Although she knew that her name would be forever linked with the aftermaths of 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 own words, her public service provided an opportunity “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.”
Kathleen was preceded in death by her father, Louis Babineaux, her brother, Louis Babineaux, Jr., and her son, Benedict Andrew Blanco. She is survived by her mother, Lucille Fremin Babineaux of New Iberia, by her husband, Raymond Blanco, and by their children Karmen Blanco-Hartfield (Jerry), Monique Blanco Boulet (David), Nicole Blanco (fiancé John George), Raymond Blanco, Jr. (Aprill Springfield Blanco), and Pilar Blanco Eble (Michael). She is also survived by sisters Yvette Babineaux and Priscilla Cadwell, brothers Baron Babineaux, Kenneth Babineaux and Erroll Babineaux, 13 grandchildren and many nieces and nephews.
She was a member of The Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist in Lafayette.
Our hearts are overflowing for those who filled, some daily, the last 22 months with love, kindness and generosity: Michael and Cecilia Neustrom, Chris and Susie Arsement, Father Chester Arceneaux, Virginia Boulet and Alvin Albe, Merilyn Crain, Kim Hunter Reed, Kimberly Robinson, James Davison, Richard Zuschlag, Jim Bernhard, and Jeff Jenkins. Your support of Kathleen in her fight against ocular melanoma is inspirational. In addition, we are grateful for the powerful prayers that came from across the county and from across diverse faiths. Those prayers carried Kathleen in her faith and in her fight. She was an amazing woman in life and in death. Thanks to each of you here today for your role in our wonderful journey.
The Blanco family offers love and gratitude to Dr. Takami Sato, Dr. David Eschelman, Rene Zalinsky and the entire Thomas Jefferson Metastatic Uveal Melanoma Program in Philadelphia for giving our family almost two years of lifelong memories, special moments and travel that would not otherwise have been possible. We also deeply thank the staff of St. Joseph Hospice Carpenter House for loving and welcoming Kathleen and her entire family for the last 26 days of her life.
Funeral services are as follows:
A Celebration of Life-Interfaith Service will be held on Thursday, August 22, 2019 at 10:00 am at St. Joseph Cathedral in Baton Rouge, La. Afterwards, she will lie in state for a public visitation in the Rotunda of the Louisiana State Capitol between 1:00-6:00 pm.
Public visitation continues on Friday, August 23, 2019 in Lafayette, La. between 12:30 – 8:00 pm at the St. John the Evangelist Cathedral Church Hall. The Divine Mercy Chaplet will be recited at 3:00 pm, and a prayer service will take place between 6:00 - 7:00 pm. Visitation will resume Saturday morning between 8:00 - 10:00 am, before processing to the Cathedral for a Mass of Christian Burial, beginning at 10:30 am.
Private, family interment will be held following the mass.
In lieu of flowers, the Blanco family is requesting that donations be made to the Governor Kathleen Blanco Public Policy Center, via the University of Louisiana at Lafayette Foundation, 705 E. St. Mary Blvd, Lafayette, LA 70504 or online at give.louisiana.edu.