Plaquemines Parish President Amos Cormier dies at 70 _lowres

Amos Cormier Jr.

Plaquemines Parish President Amos Cormier died Thursday morning, sending parish officials and residents into shock over the sudden loss of a leader who also had gained prominence as a successful youth sports coach and educator. He was 70.

Officials had said earlier that a medical procedure Cormier underwent Wednesday to address a blocked heart artery was “quick and successful.” But he did not leave the hospital alive.

Paramedics arrived at Cormier’s home in Belle Chasse on Tuesday morning and took him to an Ochsner hospital facility in Gretna, where he underwent his procedure, officials said.

He was pronounced dead shortly after 7 a.m. Thursday.

Even as they mourned a man they said was devoted to his wife of more than four decades and their five children, Cormier’s former colleagues mapped out the process required to fill the unforeseen vacancy.

“Today’s been a blur,” said Parish Councilman Charlie Burt, who was once a member of a team coached to a state championship football game by Cormier. He said he saw Cormier as recently as a June 9 public meeting, and “it’s hard to believe he suddenly passed.”

As many people will remember Cormier for his political career as they will for the many years he spent teaching hundreds of students at the now-defunct Buras High School how to excel on the gridiron and baseball diamond, Parish Council Chairman Kirk Lepine said.

Cormier graduated from Port Sulphur High School, got a bachelor’s degree from Southeastern Louisiana College and earned a master’s from Loyola University in New Orleans. He led Buras’ football and baseball teams for about two decades beginning in the early 1980s.

He immortalized himself in Plaquemines prep sports lore by guiding the school’s football team to an undefeated, state championship-winning season in 1990 and a one-loss, runner-up campaign in 1991. He also led Buras’ baseball squad to a pair of state semifinal appearances.

After all that, Lepine said, “Everybody knew coach Cormier.”

Yet Cormier decided to branch out in 1998, running against another political newcomer for a vacant Plaquemines Parish Council seat. Despite facing questions about whether his job coaching sports and teaching environmental science and physical education at Buras would interfere with his council duties, Cormier captured 65 percent of the vote.

He won a second term four years later and was the Parish Council chairman when Hurricane Katrina devastated Plaquemines in 2005. After the storm, Cormier was among New Orleans-area officials who criticized the federal government’s response to the disaster as dangerously slow.

He memorably told one reporter that when Federal Emergency Management Agency personnel finally arrived in Plaquemines six days after Katrina’s landfall, they were just “two guys in a car.”

He also recounted driving to Baton Rouge to personally plead for help from the state, resulting in National Guard troops and Red Cross aid being sent to Plaquemines within a couple of days.

“Amos always tried to help everyone,” said Benny Rousselle, who was the parish president at the time. “He carried everyone’s concerns and problems and always made it his burden.”

After wrapping up his second council term, Cormier ran for the parish president’s job in 2006 and 2010 but lost both times to Billy Nungesser, now Louisiana’s lieutenant governor.

In a statement Thursday, Nungesser said, “The devastating and tragic news of President Amos Cormier’s passing leaves our hearts broken for the entire Cormier family.”

Cormier launched a third bid for the top post in 2014, when term limits barred Nungesser from seeking re-election. He finished second in a five-candidate primary and, in a runoff, defeated Jerry Hodnett, who was backed by Nungesser. He took office in early 2015.

During his successful campaign, Cormier pledged to fight for lower insurance rates as well as coastal restoration and levee projects. He said he would work to expedite the planned replacement of the Belle Chasse bridge and tunnel, which he called outdated and inadequate.

Cormier said recently it would cost $15 million to refurbish the tunnel and about $120 million to make major upgrades to the bridge.

Cormier’s administration last summer rejected a settlement offer from BP to pay for damages stemming from the massive 2010 oil spill. Although other area government bodies accepted similar proposals from BP, Cormier’s administration said the offer from the oil giant was too small to cover the parish’s losses from the spill, and it opted to continue pursuing litigation the parish had filed earlier against the company.

One pet cause Cormier championed during his 17 months as parish president was the idea of building a bridge that would connect Plaquemines’ east and west banks, colleagues said. A number of officials said Thursday they did not consider that idea to be feasible because of the state’s budget crisis, but that it was emblematic of his wanting to see Plaquemines undivided.

“He was an out-of-the-box dreamer,” said Rousselle, now a parish councilman. “And that’s good because dreams sometimes come true.”

Funeral arrangements had not been completed as of Thursday afternoon.

According to parish law, council members have 30 days to appoint an interim replacement. That person would serve until a special election for a permanent successor can be held, most likely on Nov. 8, Lepine said. The interim replacement will not be eligible to run in the special election.

Lepine said he will handle Cormier’s day-to-day duties until an interim replacement can be appointed.

The council hopes to nominate and ratify an interim replacement at either a special meeting Monday or a regular session Thursday, he said.