Curt Eysink, a former Advocate journalist who led the Louisiana Workforce Commission from 2009 to 2016 and guided an ambitious redesign of the state’s workforce development strategy, died Friday after suffering a stroke. He was 53.

Eysink, who had no known history of serious health problems, was driving to New Orleans on Monday when he lapsed into unconsciousness. First responders determined that he had stopped breathing, presumably because of a cardiac problem.

Eysink had spent this week in intensive care at Our Lady of the Lake after being revived. After suffering a stroke during his treatment, he died quietly among family and friends.

"Fundamentally his life's passion was preparing people for careers in rewarding jobs," said former Gov. Bobby Jindal, who had appointed Eysink to his cabinet. "He was a national leader in his field, and he was rightly proud of that. He did a phenomenal job at the Workforce Commission, and under his leadership, it became one of the best of its kind in the country."  

The former governor said Eysink "found it ironic that he was often covered by the same people he once worked with. We used to kid him about it. I think he enjoyed that." 

A native of South Africa, Eysink lived at various points in his youth in Holland, Venezuela, Scotland and Australia as his father took posts in the petroleum industry overseas. Eysink moved to New Orleans when he was 15. He studied at LSU, graduating in 1986 with a degree in journalism, then joining The Advocate as a reporter and quickly rising through the ranks, becoming city editor in 2002.

Among Eysink’s colleagues was Fred Kalmbach, currently the newspaper’s managing editor. "Curt was always a leader at the newspaper, both as a reporter and an editor,” Kalmbach said. “He never let go of something just because it was difficult, and always pushed to get the bigger story."

Kalmbach credited Eysink with spearheading The Advocate’s coverage of the shocking number of unsolved murders of women in Baton Rouge over a decade. “It was a story that opened a lot of eyes. I don't think anyone here at the newspaper was surprised when Curt ended up leading the LWC. He had that kind of drive.”

Eysink left The Advocate in 2004 to become a marketing executive with Louisiana Healthcare Review.

Tim Barfield, Eysink’s predecessor as head of the Workforce Commission, met Eysink a decade and a half ago at a business function, and they quickly became friends. After Barfield became Gov. Bobby Jindal’s secretary of labor in 2008, heading a department that was rechristened as the Workforce Commission, he recruited Eysink to serve as communications director.

“He quickly became my chief of staff and No. 2,” Barfield recalled. “He had a lot of vision and an incredible capacity for learning new things. He became one of the chief architects of the workforce development redesign.”

The initiative, which cut across state agencies and institutions, was aimed at better aligning education and worker training to suit the needs of industry.

When Barfield left LWC in 2009 to become Jindal’s executive counsel, the governor tapped Eysink to succeed Barfield in leading the commission, a post he kept until Jindal left office in 2016.

“I think Curt’s biggest legacy to the state was in implementing the workforce development redesign plan that was put together,” Barfield said.

Away from the office, the Barfield and Eysink families have supported each other in raising children and as members of Our Lady of Mercy Catholic Church. “He became a brother,” Barfield said of Eysink.

State Rep. Chris Broadwater, R-Hammond, was an assistant secretary at the Workforce Commission when Eysink joined the agency. Broadwater said Eysink quickly lived up to his billing as an honest man who knew how to get things done. "He was the most honest and sincere person I have ever known," said Broadwater. "He was rarely willing to sacrifice what he believed was right to make other people comfortable. I think that was one of his strengths."      

As head of the Louisiana Recovery Authority, which guided rebuilding efforts after hurricanes Katrina and Rita, Paul Rainwater collaborated with Eysink on policy issues. “Curt was the guy you always wanted to see walk through the door,” Rainwater said. “He always had a great big smile on his face, and he had great passion for what he did. He was one of the few people who was consistent in the things he cared about. And he was great fun. He had a way of lifting your spirits.”

After leading the Workforce Commission, Eysink oversaw workforce policy for the Louisiana Community and Technical College System.

Eysink is survived by his wife, Dianne Nodier Eysink; three children, Samantha, Maxwell and Adelaide, parents Ute and Billy Eysink; brothers Paul and Konrad, as well as many nephews and nieces.

Funeral arrangements are pending.