Remembering the beloved figures from Lafayette and Acadiana’s culture, politics and business worlds who died this year
John St. Julien
A prominent voice in public education and the campaign to bring city-owned fiber to local homes, businesses and schools, John St. Julien died in January following a sudden, monthlong battle with a rare pulmonary infection. He was 63. John and his wife of 28 years, Layne Darby St. Julien, were a powerful advocacy group unto themselves, organizing and agitating with great effectiveness on behalf of various causes tied to public education. A major entry point in his local activism was the campaign to make LUS Fiber a reality. His commitment and vision about fiber centered on his passion to ensure high speed Internet access was available to low-income and minority students. He was also a hell of a cook and avid hiker.
Manning Francis Billeaud Jr. — “Bozo” to family, friends and throughout the local construction business — died at home in January at the age of 88. For 55 years, Bozo worked for JB Mouton & Sons — the general contracting firm founded by his maternal grandfather 100 years ago — serving as its president for 22 years before retiring in 2003. During Bozo’s career, the now fifth-generation general contracting company completed about 300 building projects, including construction of Chase Tower, Our Lady of Fatima Catholic Church and Sacred Heart of Jesus Church in Broussard.
Graceful, garrulous and divinely gifted, David Egan stitched golden threads into South Louisiana’s musical tapestry as a band leader, side man and songwriter for Grammy-winning greats like Irma Thomas and Joe Cocker. As an integral part of Lil’ Band O’ Gold as piano player and vocalist — and Filé and A Train before that — the Shreveport native helped reinvigorate swamp pop, and his three jazzy, bluesy and true-to-heart solo records stand tall as enduring, soulful works of art. Egan died in March after a two-year battle with lung cancer. It was his second bout with a disease likely caused by decades of exposure to second-hand smoke as he performed in bars and night clubs — something that activated him late in life to lend his name and face to the “Let’s Be Totally Clear” campaign. Saturday nights at Charley G’s will never be the same. Egan was 61.
Some knew Margaret McMillan, who died in August, for her long association and employment with UL Lafayette’s physical education department. Others knew her as the award-winning, glass ceiling-shattering founder of McMillan Offshore Survival Technology. And still many others knew her as the founder and face of McMillan Swim School, where she taught generations of families how to swim. One of a kind among Lafayette’s ones of a kind, McMillan was 96 years old.
A professor emeritus of mathematics at UL Lafayette and longtime actor in local theater productions, Dr. Robert Sidman died in August doing what he loved: He was backstage between scenes at Cité des Arts during a performance of The Odd Couple. Sidman was 76.
His mentor, Clifton Chenier, made zydeco music accessible to a national audience. But Stanley “Buckwheat” Dural Jr. made it an international sensation. His first brush with fame was as Chenier’s organist, but with a hot backing band and taste for travel, Buckwheat Zydeco and his piano accordion took zydeco music, infused with the R’n’B and soul rhythms he loved since childhood, to stratospheric levels as he influenced and inspired a generation of musicians — beginning with the 1987 major-label release of his Grammy-nominated record, On a Night Like This. Dural died in September after a battle with lung cancer. He was 68.
After a long battle with cancer, former St. Landry Parish District Attorney Morgan J. Goudeau III died in September. He was 87. Goudeau opened his law office in his hometown of Opelousas in 1952 and became active in politics and the Louisiana Democratic Party. In 1955, he was appointed assistant district attorney for St. Landry Parish and elected D.A. in 1973, serving in that capacity until his retirement in 1997.
A longtime senior adviser to former U.S. Sen. John Breaux, Raymond Cordova died at his residence in October at age 75. Cordova worked for Breaux for three decades, serving 14 years in the U.S. House of Representatives and 16 years in the U.S. Senate.
Slow to anger and quick to forgive, Al Lippman was a dapper dresser who forged lasting relationships with state politicos of all stripes. Lippman died in October at age 78 following a career as a Morgan City-area lawyer, having retired to Lafayette in recent years. An avid antique collector, Lippman was a close personal friend of former Govs. Mike Foster and Kathleen Blanco.
The last surviving member of a generation of retailers that dominated the market in Lafayette, Iberia and St. Landry parishes throughout the 20th century, Evelina Abdalla died in December at age 99. She and her husband Herbert, who died in 2010, were also among the first to venture beyond Lafayette’s traditional Downtown shopping hub into the newly developed Oil Center in the late 1960s, opening a store that outlasted most family-owned department stores across the U.S., including Baton Rouge-based giant Goudchaux’s among many others. That store closed in 2005, marking the end of a 110-year run in the industry. Along with her sister-in-law Irma, Evelina was honored by ABiz as the first-ever Trailblazers in 2004 as part of the magazine’s annual Women Who Mean Business Awards.