Frances Gable Villere, a volunteer and philanthropist who was known for her steadfast love and support of her family, friends and the community, died Saturday of lung cancer. She was 74.
A native of Palm Beach, Florida, who graduated from Finch College in New York City, she moved to New Orleans in 1967 after she married George Gabriel Villere, a New Orleans native whom she met while they were working in New York.
She quickly embraced New Orleans, raising her family there and beginning decades of support for local nonprofits and charities.
“Fran made her own way; she gave this city a great big enveloping hug,” said Roger Ogden, who worked with her on the Ogden Museum of Southern Art and other organizations. “And never let go of that hug. She saw what a special place this was.”
She was on the boards of Kingsley House, Children’s Hospital, the Audubon Nature Institute, the Metropolitan Area Committee, the Catholic Foundation, Isidore Newman School, Louise S. McGehee School, Save Our Cemeteries. Longue Vue House and Gardens, St. Elizabeth’s Home, Make-A-Wish Louisiana, the Junior League of New Orleans, the Gunnery School, the Ogden Museum of Southern Art and Project Lazarus.
Even though she was on numerous boards, she also thrived working hands-on within the organizations. “I want to work with the patients,” her daughter Mathilde remembered her saying about her work with Project Lazarus, which helps people living with HIV/AIDS.
“She was the go-to person for everything,” said Alan Philipson, who met Villere while they were on the Newman board together.
“She was on a board it because it meant something to her,” he continued. “If you needed a go-to person to get something done, you went to Fran. You knew it would get done and done correctly.”
When Ogden was planning the Ogden Museum of Southern Art, he pulled in Villere at the ground floor. “I admired her trustworthiness, straightforwardness, intellectual honesty and hard work ethic,” he said.
“Fran saw the big picture always, noting problems and concerns, but quick to dwell on solutions with results,” said Betsy Nalty, a friend of 50 years who also served on a number of boards with Villere. “She was articulate and very insightful — a delight to work with always.”
For her volunteer efforts, Villere in 2003 received the Times-Picayune Loving Cup, an award given since 1901 to women and men who have worked unselfishly for the community without expectation of public commendation or material reward.
Her son Chris said she was understated about her accomplishments. “When I nominated her for the loving cup, she listed her occupation as housewife, despite being on a number of boards,” he said.
Persistence and determination to get things done, to figure her way through an obstacle big or small, was characteristic of Villere.
Her son Lamar remembers the time he left his cell phone in her car when she dropped him off at the airport in 2004. “I am sitting at the gate and saw my mom standing there,” he said. “I asked her how she got through security, and she said she just walked right by them.”
“She would do anything big or small for the people she loved,” he continued. “She was a great caretaker. She took care of our father for a long time.” George Villere became blind from retinitis pigmentosa before he died in 2016.
“If Fran Villere didn’t exist, the city of New Orleans would have had to create her,” Philipson said.
Survivors include her two sons, Christopher Deschamps Villere and Lamar Gable Villere, both of New Orleans; a daughter, Mathilde Villere Currence, of New Orleans; and seven grandchildren.
There will be a funeral mass at St. Stephen's Church, 1025 Napoleon Ave., on Weds. Nov. 14 at 11 a.m. Visitation starts at 9 a.m. Internment will be private. In lieu of flowers, please make donations to Kingsley House or Children's Hospital.