This has been a rough eight days for Billy Nungesser Jr. Nungesser is the president of Plaquemines Parish, LA, now perhaps the most famous county/parish executive in the country after his high-profile responses both to the BP oil spill several years ago and now, eight days ago, to Hurricane Isaac, which badly flooded about half of his parish. Well, now today's Times-Picayune carries news that his mother, Ruth, has died at age 79. I never really knew Ruth well, but I was around her on numerous occasions. She always was a solid little source of stability -- and to me, at least, kindness and graciousness unfailing -- a wonderful pillar of quiet strength who kept her husband, also named Billy, well moored even as he bounced strode around exhibiting one of the most outsized and colorful personalities Louisiana politics has ever seen. (And THAT is saying something, considering how many colorful political personalities the Pelican State has spawned.) I knew the elder Billy a lot better than I knew Ruth, and he was one of my all-time favorite people: Raw, temperamental, big-hearted, hard-working, conservative, feisty, full of humor, and singularly irrepressible. I wrote about him in the course of a larger story here at the Spectator. The occasion described was one in which Klansman David Duke tried to create a riot at a Republican state convention by rushing the podium during a lull in the proceedings. Here's one of my paragraphs about the elder Nungesser:
This was a man who had come up the hard way, serving as a Marine during the Korean War, building a riverboat catering business from nothing, helping organize and finance the campaigns for public office of his more "Uptown" former high-school classmate David Treen, and then serving as Treen's chief of staff when Treen became Louisiana's first Republican governor since Reconstruction. (While in that administration, Nungesser donated his whole salary to children's charities.) Nungesser, despite his penchant for shiny pastels and whites, was just plain tougher than most men, and he damn sure wasn't gonna let this Kluxer steal the day.
The current president of Plaquemines Parish seems, at a distance, to possess his father's tough-minded energy, along with the compassion that always seemed to emanate from the eyes of his also steely but quieter mother. May she rest in peace alongside her late husband Billy, and may son Billy and his whole family know God's comfort.
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