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Moon Landrieu remembered as a politician with a certain moral core

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

People are remembering former New Orleans Mayor Moon Landrieu as a game-changer and a political patriarch. He died this week at age 92 and will be buried tomorrow. Landrieu was a white Democrat who opposed segregation in the 1960s and '70s. He won the New Orleans mayoral seat with rare support from across the racial divide. His daughter is former U.S. Senator Mary Landrieu. Senator Landrieu, welcome, and my condolences on your loss.

MARY LANDRIEU: Thank you, Ari. We really appreciate it.

SHAPIRO: As a child, were you aware of how groundbreaking your father was? Or was he just your dad?

LANDRIEU: Well, I was somewhat aware, honestly. It was so clear to me that he was just something special. And to understand his public life, I guess it's important to understand his private life. And he was just such an amazing human being from my earliest memories.

SHAPIRO: Can you tell us a story?

LANDRIEU: Yes. I mean, there are so many stories. We have laughed and cried now for weeks and are still looking forward (ph). But he didn't take himself seriously. But he was always a man that you could tell that he lived purposefully. He loved my mother beyond measure, had a sign on, you know, his desk that he kept until Katrina washed it away saying, the greatest thing a father could ever do for his children is to love their mother. So that was evident to me, as the oldest child - let me say, you know, as the eldest child, that my dad was something special.

SHAPIRO: What did he teach you about leadership and specifically about racial equality?

LANDRIEU: Well, he was the consummate coach and counselor when it came to leadership. One day, he was so frustrated with me. I gave a speech - I thought it was pretty good - to a small crowd. He came up to me. He said, daughter, do you know the difference between performance and leadership? And I paused. And I've never forgotten it. That is my father. He was not a performer. He was a leader. He said, you lead from your own mind and heart. And if you don't know a subject well enough that you can speak extemporaneously in 10 minutes, then you shouldn't be talking about it.

SHAPIRO: It was rare for a white Southern politician of his generation to support racial equality as unequivocally as he did. Where do you think he got that set of values?

LANDRIEU: Well, he's told us where he got them, and - basically from the Jesuits, their call for social justice and equity. And on one of the first days of law school, he met Norman Francis, who was president of Xavier and the longest-serving college president in the history of the nation. He walked into school with Dad on the first day, and Dad put out his hand and said, I know who you are. He's the first African American in law school. Pascal (ph) and I - that was his other friend - want to be your friend, will be your friend. And from his relationship with Norman Francis, who helped my father see more clearly the injustices of segregation - and Norman would share stories about how he was growing up. And so my dad - I mean, he lived in a segregated community. He understood the pain, but he didn't understand it as well as when Norman explained it.

SHAPIRO: What do you think his legacy in New Orleans and in Louisiana is going to be?

LANDRIEU: I hope people will realize what a faithful, faithful man he was to God, to his wife, to his family. And he also was not ambitious in the sense of grasping for public office. He wanted it to do the job and to serve, but he wasn't - like, so many people are, oh, what can I do next? Dad just would say to us, do the job you're given to do. Do it as well as it can be done. And then, you know, trust God for, you know, what's the future.

SHAPIRO: Former Louisiana Senator Mary Landrieu, thank you for remembering your father with us.

LANDRIEU: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Alejandra Marquez Janse
Justine Kenin is an editor on All Things Considered. She joined NPR in 1999 as an intern. Nothing makes her happier than getting a book in the right reader's hands – most especially her own.