Friends and colleagues on Friday remembered Louisiana Racing Commission Chairman Jerry Meaux as a dedicated and respected horseman, not just for the business and sporting aspects but especially for the well-being of the animals themselves.
Meaux, 74, of Duson, was killed Thursday afternoon in a two-vehicle accident near his Indian Ridge Farm in Lafayette Parish. The other driver has been charged with DWI and vehicular homicide.
“The racing industry has lost a giant,” said Racing Commission Executive Director Charlie Gardiner. “He was a dyed-in-the-wool horseman who had a keen perspective because he knew every aspect of the industry from the inside out.
“That certainly served him well as a commissioner.”
Meaux was appointed commission chairman by Gov. Bobby Jindal in 2008 after serving an earlier term during the Mike Foster administration.
A statement from Jindal’s office on Friday called Meaux “a great leader and strong voice for the racing community” and pledged to start the process of appointing a replacement soon.
That will not happen before Tuesday’s special meeting of the commission to consider renewing the operating license of the Fair Grounds held by its owners, Churchill Downs Inc.
The rolling renewal of the 10-year license was deferred earlier this week when the commission, with Meaux presiding, asked CDI for a detailed plan for improvements following widespread criticisms of its operations, both at the track and at its off-track betting parlors.
The meeting was originally set for Monday, but Meaux’s funeral is being held that day in Lafayette.
“This is the way Jerry would want to us to conduct business,” said commission member Bob Wright, of Lafayette, who will become acting chairman. “Jerry earned a lot of respect. He always allowed everyone to express their opinions, but he also wasn’t afraid to take charge when necessary.
“He loved being chairman of the commission because he always wanted to do the right things for the horse industry.”
Fair Grounds President Tim Bryant agreed.
“Mr. Meaux always conducted himself in a very professional manner,” he said. “In every conversation we had, his love of horse racing came through.”
Added Stanley Seelig, president of the Louisiana Horsemen’s Protection and Benevolent Association, which has been heavily involved in the Fair Grounds controversy, “There was no questioning Jerry Meaux’s care for horse racing.
“You might not always agree with him, but he was a stand-up guy who gave me some very good advice over the years.”
Along with being a longtime breeder, owner and trainer who was instrumental in launching racing at Evangeline Downs, Meaux was involved in raising cattle and in growing rice.
He was the chairman of the South Louisiana Electrical Membership Cooperative for 22 years, served on the board of the Acadiana District Livestock Show and benefited 4-H and FFA clubs in the area.
But he was best known as a horseman.
“Jerry was as closely involved in racing in Louisiana as anyone I have ever known,” Wright said. “I think it was because, first and foremost, he loved animals so much.
“He was very concerned about animal rights, especially at making sure people stuck to the rules about medications. I think because he grew up on a farm, he would not stand for the horses being mistreated.”
Will Meaux, Jerry Meaux’s son and a trainer himself, said concern for the horses came first with his father.
“He was never a big medicine guy, and he always emphasized to me that there were better ways of treating our horses,” he said. “Being on the commission was a special place for him because he saw it as an opportunity to do the right thing for the industry and for the horses.
“I think that earned him a lot of respect.”
Charles Ashy, of Lafayette, former Evangeline Downs general manager and longtime friend, said that as a commissioner, Meaux was known for his fairness and especially for not bringing political ties into his considerations.
“In a position like that, you’re going to make 50 percent of the people happy and 50 percent of the people mad at you,” he said. “Jerry and I would have our disagreements, but when it was over, we’d probably go out to eat the next day.
Meaux is survived by his wife of 52 years, Betty, five children, five grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
Visitation will be held from 2 p.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday at Delhomme Funeral Home on Bertrand Drive in Lafayette. Visitation will continue at 9 a.m. Monday until services at 1 p.m. in the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist.