NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Heartfelt stories of a man's courage, generosity, faith and love for his family were heard Saturday as family and friends bid farewell to former New Orleans Mayor Moon Landrieu, whose legacy includes standing against segregation at a time when some preferred the status quo.
Landrieu died Monday at the age of 92.
His son, former New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu, talked about his father without any notes, saying if he'd had some, his father “would jump out of that coffin and strangle me." The remark drew laughter from the hundreds gathered inside Holy Name of Jesus Catholic Church on the campus of Loyola University New Orleans. Among those in attendance were Gov. John Bel Edwards, Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser, U.S. Rep. Troy Carter and New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell.
Landrieu said his father gave him his first political lesson when he was a child after diving off a shed and getting stuck.
“I yelled, ‘Somebody help me, somebody help me’ and my father ran out and said ‘Just let go, I’ll catch you.' So I let go, and my father backed up. I said, ‘I thought you said you were going to catch me.’ My father said ‘Son, the second you came out of your mama I knew you were going to be a politician and I had to teach you a lesson.’ I said ‘What is it?’ and he said 'Don't trust nobody, not even your daddy!"
The crowd roared with laughter. Landrieu later admitted the story was only half true, but noted the one true thing was that his father was always there for his family.
"My father's life was pretty simple although it was very hard to do what it is he did," Landrieu said. “My father's life was a life of service. That's all he wanted to do from the time he was born."
Born Maurice E. Landrieu on July 23, 1930, he was called Moon, a family nickname, throughout his life and eventually made that his legal first name. He served three years in the Army before opening a small, walk-up law office with law school classmate Pascal Calogero, who later became the chief justice of the Louisiana Supreme Court.
Landrieu won a statehouse seat in 1960 and held onto it in 1963 after opposing Gov. Jimmie Davis’ moves to keep students in New Orleans separated by race. He then won a city council seat in 1965 with strong support from Black voters. After becoming mayor, he pushed to racially diversify city government and supported the state’s construction of the Louisiana Superdome, which opened in 1975.
After his two terms as mayor expired in 1978, Landrieu became President Jimmy Carter’s secretary of housing and urban development. He then became a judge, serving on Louisiana’s 4th Circuit Court of Appeal from 1992 to 2000.
“He was a trailblazer and had the courage of his convictions,” Edwards said of Moon Landrieu. “He made it easier for us to do the right things. The things he did were revolutionary at the time.”
“Moon Landrieu was a legend, a history maker,” said former New Orleans Mayor Marc Morial, who now leads the National Urban League. “He set the framework for every mayor since him. Not only was he a mayor of accomplishment and competence, he said what he believed and had a deep conviction of fairness that never wandered.”
Landrieu called his father a great politician in service to his country.
“But however good he was as a public servant, he was a much greater father,” he said. “What many of you don’t know is that Moon Landrieu has a family that he has adored his entire life.”
Former state Sen. Jon D. Johnson said he considered Landrieu to be a mentor but above that a “good person and a dynamic leader for the City of New Orleans."
Just after being elected to the state Legislature, Johnson recalled taking a trip to Washington and deciding at the spur of the moment to visit Landrieu, then the head of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
“I didn't have an appointment, I just walked in and said I wanted to meet with him,” he said, smiling. “He spent about 20 minutes with me, just talking with me. That was the kind of man he was.”
Sheila Berniard Burns said Landrieu was responsible for putting her into a career with city government.
“He gave me the opportunity, this little black girl from New Orleans, to get a foot in and get promoted through the ranks to eventually run the Transit Administration which later morphed into the Regional Transit Authority," said Burns, who also served in Ernest N. “Dutch” Morial's administration and as a consultant during his son's term. “Moon's legacy was that he gave African Americans like me an opportunity.”