John Marie had previously received treatment for throat and lung cancer diagnoses and was told he had overcome the illnesses, so it was disconcerting when he recently learned from his oncologist that he had a tumor in his lower spine.
But Marie is as sure as he has been of anything that he will again overcome, and one big reason is getting the pep talk of his life Thursday morning — during a phone call from LSU football coach Ed Orgeron.
"Get well (because) we need you back soon," said Orgeron, according to Marie, known locally as a former member of the New Orleans Police Department's legendary Felony Action Squad, the chief investigator of the Plaquemines Parish Corner's Office, and one of LSU's most loyal supporters. "We are Tiger family — one family, one team."
The famously fiery Orgeron added that Marie should call him on his cell phone if there was anything he ever needed.
And with that, Marie, 67, said he got up and started walking around the hospital room where he took the call, feeling more assured that he "could also beat this."
"It was awesome," Marie said Thursday. "I was shocked, to say the least."
Marie's surprise is understandable. Later Thursday, preparing to begin his first full season at the helm of the program, Orgeron publicly introduced two newly hired, highly regarded assistants, Tommie Robinson and Mickey Joseph.
For a second time in a calendar year, LSU plucked a highly regarded football staff member fr…
But the former cop said he recalled briefly meeting Orgeron when the coach led Ole Miss' football team several years ago and then taking a picture with him on the field after LSU hired him as an assistant to Les Miles in 2015.
They also shared a handful of moments last season, when Miles was fired and Orgeron led LSU to a 5-2 record as interim head coach before landing the full-time job as well as leading the Tigers to a Citrus Bowl victory over Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson.
Additionally, Marie for ages has traveled to every one of LSU's home and away football games, along with his son and one of his best friends. And he annually attends the College World Series in Omaha, Nebraska, where LSU's baseball team frequently competes.
So when word got to Orgeron that one of his program's most fervent backers would have to grapple with health issues again, the coach didn't hesitate.
He "made a call to (Marie) in hopes of brightening his day and putting a smile on his face," LSU sports information director Michael Bonnette said in a statement Thursday after being contacted by The Advocate. "Coach O doesn't make these types of calls to get attention or for publicity purposes — he sincerely cares about John as well as other people he may call for a pep talk or just to try to put a smile on someone's face."
Bonnette added, "John Marie has long been a huge supporter of LSU, and this is a way that Coach O can hopefully help John and his family."
Many in New Orleans remember Marie for the time he spent collaring and occasionally exchanging gunfire with criminals as part of the Felony Action Squad. The FAS was a unit of plainclothes cops in the 1970s and 1980s whose work coincided with drops in the city's crime rate while also frequently drawing criticism from civic activists. Marie later spent time as an NOPD lieutenant and as a Plaquemines Parish Sheriff's Office major before joining the Plaquemines coroner's office.
His excursions to Tigers games were not slowed by his cancer diagnoses or the subsequent discovery of lesions on his brain. That's something he largely attributes to prayers answered by Blessed Francis Xavier Seelos, the German-born priest who spent time treating yellow fever patients in New Orleans in the 19th century and is venerated by many facing serious illness.
Recently, Marie noticed he was having recurring leg cramps and was walking with a limp. That led him to make an appointment with his oncologist at Touro Infirmary, which discovered Marie's symptoms were being caused by a spinal metastasis.
Nonetheless, Marie said his prognosis is good, and he hopes a series of 10 radiation treatments will resolve the problem.
"I honestly believe the Lord has more for me to do," he said. "I ... feel very positive."