In his eulogy for Victor Bussie on Friday, former Gov. Edwin W. Edwards called on the next generation to step forward to carry on the labor leader’s work defending Louisiana’s dispossessed.
Bussie, who died Sunday at the age of 92, was buried Friday at Resthaven Gardens of Memory on Jefferson Highway after funeral services at First United Methodist Church in downtown Baton Rouge.
Bussie had been president of the Louisiana AFL-CIO, the state’s largest labor organization, for 41 years from 1956 to 1997.
Throughout his career, Bussie attracted opposition for many to the programs he advocated. In 1976 Bussie unsuccessfully tried to block a right-to-work law that prohibited requiring workers to join a union or pay union dues as a condition of employment.
Edwards, Bussie’s friend for nearly half a century, said the labor leader also used his considerable power among Louisiana politicians to win a minimum wage and pension benefits for workers, civil rights for minorities and equal rights for women.
“Vic Bussie lives in the hearts and minds of every working man and woman who has a decent wage and a safe place to work; in the hearts and minds of every old person who depends on government programs to keep them alive; in the hearts and minds of every child with a disability or a sickness whose parents cannot afford to give them the medical attention that they need but who will benefit from programs” that Bussie and his wife, Fran, worked to help create, Edwards said.
Edwards recalled the story of Moses’ apprentice, Joshua, who completed the Jews’ passage to the Promised Land after the prophet died. The four-time former governor said a new champion would need to carry on Bussie’s work.
“Joshua, wherever you are, this man who has led the fight for so many years, now leaves it to you,” Edwards said, pointing to Bussie’s flag-draped coffin.
“Step up and accept the mantle because the sick, the old, the uneducated, the poor, the impoverished, those who have no voice need you now. You will never fill his shoes but you can continue with his life,” Edwards said.
Bussie attended First Methodist with his wife of 39 years, Fran. The three ministers of the church performed the funeral, the theme of which was Bussie’s service to the community.
The Rev. Susie Thomas recalled that Bussie had chosen a life guaranteed to attract criticism and opposition, which he carried with dignity. Bussie’s house in the Kenilworth subdivision was bombed in 1967 while he was trying to mediate a racial dispute.
“But society caught up with some of Vic’s more progressive standards,” Thomas said.
“Vic Bussie had hands that were absolutely incredible,” said the Rev. Brad Franklin. “He used his hands to transform the world.”
The songs were “Here I Am, Lord” and “Hymn of Promise,” two Methodist hymns written in the 1980s that speak of sacrifice and service.
The Rev. Katie McKay Simpson opened the service by noting how many dignitaries attended. In addition to Edwards, former Gov. Kathleen Blanco, Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne, Secretary of State Tom Schedler and Attorney General Buddy Caldwell were there.
Baton Rouge Mayor Kip Holden and East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff Sid Gautreaux attended. Louisiana Public Service Commission Chairman Jimmy Field and Commissioner Foster Campbell also were among the mourners.
An honor guard of firefighters and police officers escorted Bussie’s coffin out of the crowded sanctuary. Bussie, a native of Natchitoches Parish, began his career in 1940 as a hoseman with the Shreveport Fire Department. He become chief of the Fire Prevention Bureau in Shreveport in 1952 and was elected president of the AFL-CIO in 1956.
Bussie has served on dozens of government bodies, both federal and state, and was a longtime member of the Commission on Ethics for Public Employees. He was on the advisory board of LSU’s Pennington Biomedical Research Center, on the Governor’s Economic Development Review Committee and the Governor’s Pan American Commission.
Bussie held a host of positions on government panels, public service boards and civic organizations. He received many honors and awards, including an honorary doctor of science degree from LSU and an honorary doctor of laws degree from Nicholls State University.