NEW ORLEANS – Kathleen Blanco, the small-town school teacher who became Louisiana’s first female Governor, has died after a long battle with cancer. She was 76.
“Knowing this day was imminent,” said New Orleans Mayor Latoya Cantrell, “does not make this loss any easier to bear.”
Blanco was Lieutenant Governor from 1996 to 2004, and was Governor from 2004 to 2008.
In 2005, Blanco’s response to Hurricane Katrina became the defining period of her political career. She was both praised and criticized for her handling of the state’s efforts to rescue trapped residents of New Orleans, while under pressure to allow the federal government to take the lead. She did not run for a second term.
“She led Louisiana through one of our darkest hours,” said Governor John Bel Edwards in a statement, “I hope history will remember (her) as a tireless advocate for Louisiana who fought fiercely for our state to rebuild following Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.”
Blanco’s political career was a series of “firsts.”
She was born in Coteau, Louisiana in 1942. After graduating with a degree in business education from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, she became a teacher at Breaux Bridge High School.
Blanco did not enter politics until 1984, when she became the the first woman to represent the Lafayette area in the sate legislature.
Five years later, she became the first woman to serve on the Public Service Commission, a post she held until 1994.
Blanco became Lieutenant Governor in 1995, and won a second term in 1999.
On January 12, 2004, Blanco took the oath of office as the state’s first woman Governor.
The Louisiana Democratic Party released a statement on her passing, calling her a leader who “destroyed glass ceilings.. defended the most vulnerable… (and) showed unwavering resolve in the face of our state’s biggest struggles.”
Even those on the other side of the political aisle have released statements praising her and offering condolences to her family.
From Louisiana’s Republican delegation in Congress, Senator John Kennedy released a statement saying, “True faith makes you fearless, and that faith was Kathleen’s solace and strength. Louisiana has suffered a tremendous loss with her passing.”
In Senator Bill Cassidy’s statement, he said Blanco “conducted herself with class and grace. ”
Senator Steve Scalise said in a statement that Blanco “served our state with honor and integrity… and will be remembered as someone who cared deeply for Louisiana.”
Blanco is survived by her husband, Raymond “Coach” Blanco, six children and 13 grandchildren.
Her family released a statement saying that “she knew that her name would forever be linked to Hurricanes Katrina and Rita (but) it was her dying wish to be remembered for faith in God, commitment to family, and love of Louisiana.”
Governor Edwards has announced that Blanco’s body will lie in state at the State Capitol in Baton Rouge until her funeral, Saturday, Aug. 24.