BATON ROUGE, La. — Even after Hurricane Katrina ended her political career and as cancer ate away her strength, former Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco still described her life as “charmed.” With strength in her faith and her family, the state’s first elected female governor time and again refused to wallow in disappointment or disaster.
Blanco called it an “honor and blessing” to lead Louisiana through the fury and destruction of Katrina. As she knew her end was near from an incurable melanoma, Blanco talked of her final months as a “wonderful time for me.”
A pioneering woman in Louisiana politics, Blanco died Sunday in hospice care in Lafayette. She was 76.
“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,” Blanco’s family said in a statement issued by Gov. John Bel Edwards’ office.
A Democrat, Blanco held Louisiana’s top elected job from 2004 to 2008, and served in state government offices for more than two decades. But her legacy rests with Katrina, the devastating August 2005 hurricane that killed more than 1,400 people in Louisiana, displaced hundreds of thousands and inundated 80% of New Orleans.
Historians will continue to debate whether any governor could have been prepared for such a catastrophe, but Blanco shouldered much of the blame after images of thousands stranded on rooftops and overpasses were broadcast to the world, and the government was slow to respond to the desperation.
Blanco was criticized as unprepared, overwhelmed and indecisive. While she successfully fought for billions in federal aid, the recovery she guided moved ploddingly.
Blanco said Louisiana’s miseries were worsened by a Republican-led White House desperate to blame someone else for its disaster response failures.
“I just thought I could shout more loudly than the noise around me, but in the end I couldn’t. There was just too much pain,” she once said.
Blanco had a rare eye cancer that she battled successfully in 2011, but it later returned and spread to her liver. She announced in December 2017 that she was being treated for the incurable melanoma.
Edwards, a Democrat mentored by Blanco, ordered flags at state buildings around Louisiana flown at half-staff through Blanco’s funeral, scheduled for Saturday.
“She led Louisiana through one of our darkest hours, when hurricanes and the failure of the federal levee system devastated much of our state,” Edwards said in a statement Sunday. “I hope history will remember Gov. Blanco as a tireless advocate for Louisiana, who fought fiercely for our state to rebuild.”