Pat Brister didn’t make the sort of headlines some other politicians make, a fact that says more about the two-term St. Tammany Parish President’s professional, gracious style than her impressive substance.
Brister, who died Monday of cancer, was never a self-promoter. Instead, she was a low-key but serious leader who worked to build the Republican Party in Louisiana even as she won fans across party lines, and who sought to balance her suburban constituents’ small government politics with a desire to meet public needs. There were no histrionics where Brister was concerned, and certainly no scandals, just a long record of focusing on the job at hand.
Brister’s career in politics began with several party posts, as Republican National Committeewoman and the state GOP’s first female chair, both during a period when the party was growing in popularity and influence. She drew national notice too, and was appointed by President George W. Bush as an ambassador to the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women in 2006. Louis Gurvich, the state party’s current chair, called her a “Republican icon.”
But she also knew when to put partisanship aside. She worked closely with former Democratic U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu to secure forgiveness of FEMA disaster loans from Hurricane Katrina. Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards called her a good partner and a “a passionate champion for the people of St. Tammany who fought to make her community a better place.”
Brister served two terms on the St. Tammany Parish Council before assuming the parish presidency in 2012, and her tenure in the chief executive job came with its share of drama.
She successfully created a mitigation bank to set aside wetlands that the parish was able to use to offset losses caused by building public projects, and lobbied for federal and state aid to widen Interstate 12. And when the state shut down Southeast Louisiana Hospital in Mandeville, she pushed to create Safe Haven, a behavioral health care campus, in its place.
“I saw the challenge to turn a curse into a blessing,” Brister told the St. Tammany Farmer last fall.
She also faced frustrations, including several failed attempts to renew sales taxes, which forced her to make significant spending cuts.
Brister sought a third term last fall but fell short of reelection. Monday, the man who beat her had only good things to say.
“Pat leaves behind a legacy of service, philanthropy, and entrepreneurialism," new Parish President Mike Cooper said.
We too applaud Brister’s legacy, and encourage all of Louisiana’s politicians to look to it as a guide.