Raymond Blanco is a retired academic administrator and football coach at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. The 84-year-old was married to Kathleen Babineaux Blanco, the former Governor of Louisiana who tragically passed away on August 18 from cancer.
Kathleen Blanco was elected as Governor in 2004 and served until 2008. She was heavily criticized for her handling of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, which killed more than 1,400 people, left hundreds of thousands more displaced and inundated more than 80 percent of New Orleans.
Immediately following Hurricane Katrina, Kathleen Blanco received much of the blame for the catastrophe. She was criticized as being unprepared and indecisive while overseeing the rescue efforts. In retrospect, most critics have softened as nothing could have stopped the destruction caused by Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Rita.
Raymond Blanco worked at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette for 46 years before retiring in 2008. In addition to his duties as Dean of Students, he worked as a successful football coach and political adviser and commentator in the state of Louisiana.
He and Kathleen have six children and five grandchildren together.
Here’s what you need to know about Raymond Blanco:
1. Raymond Blanco Started His Career as a Successful Football Coach
Before becoming an administrator at the University of Louisiana Lafayette, Raymond Blanco was on his way to becoming a highly successful football coach. He got his start in 1958 as an assistant football coach at Kirwin High School in Galveston, Texas. After a few years, he moved back to Louisiana to become Head Coach of the Catholic High School in New Iberia where he led the team to a state championship in 1962.
His success landed him a job at the University of Louisiana Lafayette as assistant head football coach and defensive coordinator. During his six-year tenure, the Ragin’ Cajuns had five winning seasons and won two conference championships.
2. He Became ‘Dean of Men’ at the University of Louisiana Lafayette to Help Quell Student Unrest in the 1960s & 70s
Due to his stature and the respect his commanded amongst the student body, Raymond was chosen to be the “Dean of Men” responsible for overseeing the health and wellbeing of all students. His promotion came about due to the high level of student unrest during the Vietnam era. He was tasked with quelling the protests while keeping students safe.
As a member of the University council, he was officially responsible for: Student Personnel, University Police, Student Union, Counseling and Testing, International Students, Housing, Child Development Center, Career Services, Parking and Transit, One Card System, Intramurals, Student Health Services, Student-Athlete Center, Physical Plant, Student Government, Campus Organizations and Student Publications.
He was later promoted to Dean of Students, then Chief Student Officer, and finally Vice President of Student Affairs. Despite his title changes, his duties remained mostly unchanged.
He was affectionately called “Coach” or “Dean Blanco” by students and was beloved for his reputation of going above and beyond to help students out.
He eventually retired in 2008 after a 46-year career. “During my 46-year career at the university, I have watched the evolution of student life on campus from integration to student protests of the war, to the current era of instant communication,” said Blanco in his retirement speech. “But the one thing that has remained constant is that kids want to be respected and they want to know someone cares about them. We were able to deal with difficult times because we listened, we communicated, and we truly cared about kids.”
3. He Was a Big Influence on Kathleen’s Political Career
Raymond Blanco started a political consulting business back in the 1980s, becoming an adviser to several campaigns and doing political commentary for a local Lafayette TV station. Around the same time, Kathleen started working on Jimmy Carter’s 1976 Presidential campaign. She steadily worked her way up for several years, eventually becoming the Regional Deputy Director for the US Census Bureau.
Kathleen worked with Raymond in the political consulting business which gave her unique insight into what mattered to the voters.
“If you actually do the polling and listen to some of the calls, you get to know what people think. We asked open-ended questions, and let them tell us their responses,” Blanco said in August 2018. “So they weren’t canned questions; they were open-ended questions. We weren’t pushing people in any direction. We wanted to know what they were really thinking. When I ran for office, at each stage, we quit polling. We picked it back up after I retired from the governorship, did a few more polls, and still occasionally do them.”
In 1984, the incumbent state representative announced his retirement and Raymond encouraged Kathleen to run. She ended up winning the race and representing Louisiana’s forty-fifth district in Baton Rouge.
She was then elected to Louisiana’s Public Services Commission before running for Governor in 1991. She dropped out of the race 3 months later after declaring she wasn’t ready. When she successfully ran for Governor in 2003, Raymond was helping out behind the scenes, though he downplayed his role.
“My primary involvement is worrying about how they’re spending money,” he told Capitol Watch in 2003. “I make sure they don’t spend money on frivolous things, that they’re not throwing money away. I don’t do policy.”
When Governor Mike Forster said he was the “driving force” behind her campaign he responded, “I’ve never been involved in her work, and she’s never been involved in mine.”
4. His Son Died at 19 From an Industrial Accident
In December 1997, Raymond Blanco’s 19-year-old son Ben was tragically killed in a workplace accident when an industrial crane collapsed on top of him. According to 64 Parishes, his older brother Ray was standing across from Ben and witnessed the entire accident take place.
The Blanco family was devastated. Raymond was overwhelmed with grief that he “contemplated walking into traffic and making it look like an accident,” according to a 2004 Gambit story.
Kathleen was equally heartbroken. “A lot of families break up over the loss of a child because of the grieving process,” Blanco said in August 2018. “Grieving being so difficult for everyone, and each handling it individually, it can be tough.”
5. He Has a Suite of Office Space Named After Him in the University of Louisiana Student Union
Earlier this year, the University of Louisiana Lafayette dedicated a suite of office space at their student union to Raymond Blanco in honor of his lengthy, illustrious, unblemished career.
During the dedication ceremony, several of his former colleagues were present to praise him for his “authenticity, compassion, fairness, and tolerance.” according to the University.
University President Dr. Joseph Savoie, who Blanco hired as associate dean of students in the 1970s, said of Raymond, “His larger than life, exuberant personality, his always-in-motion demeanor often amused, sometimes confused, but always enthralled everyone he came into contact with. His nearly half-century of devotion to our students’ welfare and his faithfulness to social justice influenced thousands, and created a legacy deeply rooted in the University’s culture,”
He was also praised with instituting a culture of inclusion and diversity throughout the University. Former assistant dean of student personnel Judy Daniels was a student at the University in the 1960s and said the environment “was not good for black students” when she attended. “We were not encouraged to participate. We were tolerated,” she said, but that the environment changed “once Dean Blanco came on board.”
“He was changing the culture of the campus. And let me tell you, that wasn’t easy,” Daniels said at the retirement ceremony. “His main thing was, everybody’s going to be respected. Everyone’s dignity will be respected, and everybody’s going to have a chance to have a voice.”