In her more than three-decade “run with the governor,” Louisiana First Lady Donna Edwards has learned the value of teamwork, faith and service to others, she told a crowd of more than 200 people Monday in New Orleans.

“Running with John Bel has never been about where we are going,” she said. “It has always been about following the plan, the path that God had prepared for us.”

Donna Edwards shared highlights from her longtime courtship and eventual marriage to Gov. John Bel Edwards at a luncheon held by the United Way of Southeast Louisiana’s Women’s Leadership Council, whose mission is to support the health and quality of life of the region’s women and children.

The group holds the luncheon every two years to celebrate past accomplishments, hear a keynote address and elect new leadership.

While it was Donna Edwards’ first address to that crowd as the state’s First Lady, she has shared similar sentiments on the campaign trail and during other engagements, such as a women’s business conference last month at Southeastern Louisiana University.

The former public school teacher first began dating Edwards in 1981 at Amite High School, where he was prophetically nicknamed “Governor” by his close friends, she said.

“In fact, his classmates’ senior-year prediction for him was his potential to lead as future governor of Louisiana,” Donna Edwards said.

Cooperation had to reign supreme in the couple’s lives when she and John Bel were separated while she completed high school and later attended the University of Southern Mississippi and he was attending the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. They again had to work together after they were married in 1989, she said, and she supported him during his eight years of active military duty.

Their faith in God was later tested, Donna Edwards said, by the births of their three children: Samantha Bel, whom a doctor urged the couple to abort after a spina bifida diagnosis and who became the focus of a TV ad the Edwards team said helped propel him to front-runner status in last year’s election; Sarah Ellen, whose birth resulted in severe hemorraghing; and their “miracle child” John Miller, who was born after a doctor told the couple never to try again for another baby.

Their dedication to public service has been shown in John Bel’s military and legislative work, Donna’s time in the classroom and various community organizations, and projects the couple have jointly committed their time to, she said.

She said the two are bringing the same compassion to the highest public office in the state.

“I will continue to run alongside the governor, and with your prayers and support, we will all run this race together for a better Louisiana,” Donna Edwards said.

Follow Jessica Williams on Twitter, @jwilliamsNOLA.