Ron Gardner, an adviser to former New Orleans Mayor Ernest “Dutch” Morial and an administrator at the LSU Health Sciences Center for 30 years whose volunteer activities ranged from shoring up the military presence in the region to helping bring Super Bowls to the city, died Tuesday after a lengthy fight with cancer. He was 68.
A Vietnam veteran who served as an enlisted soldier in the U.S. Army, Gardner was involved in numerous aspects of the LSU Health Sciences Center, from overseeing security to fundraising and organizing events for high school students.
He remained behind with the more than 100 students who were stranded in the city during Hurricane Katrina. And he helped save the research that otherwise could have been lost during the catastrophe, Dr. Larry Hollier, the center’s chancellor, said Wednesday.
“He was involved in everything we did,” Hollier said. “He was just an invaluable member of the team. He’ll be missed by everyone.”
Gardner was a founding member of the Greater New Orleans Sports Foundation, serving three times as its chairman and leading the efforts to bring Super Bowl XLVII to the city in 2013, said Jay Cicero, the foundation’s president and CEO.
In addition to helping attract three Super Bowls, he was instrumental in luring NCAA Men’s Final Fours and NBA All-Star Games to New Orleans, Cicero said.
Asked about his numerous volunteer civic and professional activities, Gardner once joked he was “a glutton for punishment,” Cicero said. Gardner’s indefatigable drive stemmed from his love of New Orleans, he said.
He also co-founded the New Orleans Bowl, a December college football bowl game.
Last year, the foundation renamed its New Orleans Bowl Inspiration Award as the Ron Gardner Award for Inspiration, Cicero said. Its recipients include former New Orleans Saints player Steve Gleason, who is battling ALS.
“What he meant to us and what he meant to so many others was just unfathomable,” Cicero said. “He gave himself and his time and his advice and his leadership. He gave so much. He really is inspiring to everyone who knows him.”
Gardner was an enthusiastic supporter of Dutch Morial, New Orleans’ first African-American mayor, “and became one of his most trusted advisers,” said former Mayor Marc Morial, now president and chief executive of the National Urban League. “In every way, Ron exhibited passion, a love for community and the ability to work with people,” Morial said.
Mayor Mitch Landrieu also released a statement saying Gardner “fully embodied the term ‘public servant’ and inspired us all to be better citizens.”
Born, raised and educated in New Orleans, Gardner was a graduate of Southern University.
He served in advisory roles to Presidents Nixon, Ford, Carter and Reagan, was chairman of the New Orleans-area Selective Service Board for 15 years and was a regional technical assistance director for the former U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare.
He also served as a Regional Transit Authority commissioner and in leadership roles with the Downtown Development District.
In the early 1990s, Mayor Sidney Barthelemy appointed him as a charter member of the Mayor’s Military Advisory Committee, whose volunteer members advocate for the military services troops and their families in the area.
Retired Marine Corps Maj. Gen. David Mize recalled meeting Gardner when Mize was assigned to New Orleans from 1998 to 2001 as commander of the Marine Force Reserve. Gardner was actively involved in supporting the military through the mayor’s committee, helping create Belle Chasse Academy at the Naval Air Station, Mize said. The academy was the first charter elementary school on a military base in the state.
Gardner also played an active role in response to the Pentagon’s base closure round in 2005, in part, through his membership in the nonprofit New Orleans Federal Alliance. Through the alliance, Gardner was involved in the redevelopment of the shuttered Naval Support Activity in Algiers into the Federal City. He continued involvement in the base redevelopment project and the Mayor’s Military Advisory Committee until he stepped down because of his health.
“We’ve lost a real solid citizen here who was into so many civic things, trying to make the city better in general,” Mize said. “We lost a real advocate for the military here with Ron passing on.”
Among his visible accomplishments is the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, erected at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on the plaza overlooking Poydras Street. The memorial was created to honor the Louisianians who were killed in the Vietnam War and depicts three troops carrying a wounded comrade in combat.
Gardner is survived by his wife, Cynthia Wilson Gardner; a daughter, Raquel Robinson, of Houston; three sons, Dwayne London, of Houston, and Jason E. Gardner and Corey K. Wilson, of Baton Rouge; three sisters, Arthelle Gardner, of Anchorage, Alaska, and Julie Billips and Fay Antoine; two brothers, Anthony Gardner, of Compton, California, and Stacy Gardner, of Las Vegas; two grandchildren; and a great-grandchild.
A funeral will be held at 11 a.m. Monday at First Emanuel Baptist Church, 1829 Carondelet St. Burial will be in Mount Olivet Cemetery. There will be no visitation.