Navy Secretary Mabus Came to Town . . .

At noon today, there was a town hall meeting today at the Houma Civic Center where people of Terrebonne Parish could voice their concerns and ask questions of Navy Secretary Ray Mabus.  He took the floor without great fanfare, spewed a few facts about coastal Louisiana that we all know to be true (he’s a former governor of Mississippi), and with that, the forum was open.

Folks from all walks of life lined up at each of three microphones to ask their questions, express their grievances, and concerns about the oil spill, coastal wetland loss, the moratorium, economics, and more.  He addressed each person after they spoke, and either assured them, answered their questions, or deferred them to one of the agencies present that could help them.

For the most part, folks were very, very respectful and considerate, as he was to them.  I sat, listened, and watched those three lines grow longer as time drew on, wondering if what I had to say was even that important.

Before I could decide if I wanted to speak, a woman about my age introduced herself as a wetland advocate for 15 years, a mother, and a business owner who was very concerned that she would not be able to keep her children here once they finished college.  She felt bad about encouraging them to stay with our future looking so bleak.  She said what I wanted to say as a resident of this parish, a business owner, land owner, and parent.

Here’s the question no one asked:  How can the leader of the Navy and  Marine Corp and overseer of 900,000 personnel responsible for a $150 million budget possibly have the time left over to make the Gulf Coast economically and environmentally whole again?  Did I have the courage to ask him that in a public forum?  No, I did not.

The line dwindled to two people, the room occupied by us die-hard hangers on (all the important folks had made their cases and left), and I decided to try to get his ear afterward . . . in private.

As he shook the last hand, I quickly closed the distance between us, albeit too late because security grabbed his arm and whisked him out of earshot as I shouted, “Mr. Secretary!  Mr. Secretary!”

I guess it wasn’t meant for me to ask such a personal question to a man who served under President Clinton, served as a governor, and now serves in the President’s Cabinet.

I stood around and chatted with the head of tourism about the future of tourism in this area and the hard work she’s been putting forth to bring things to the table for us in the “nature tourism” industry.  I appreciate her efforts.  Then Diane Huhn (you might recall her from some of my posts) called me over to meet a young man working on a project called Captains for the Coast, another interesting project.

Then, I took my leave.  As I walked across that big floor, I thought about what I really and truly, in my heart of hearts wanted to say to this man if I had gotten the chance.

Deep in thought, I pushed through the double doors into the lobby, and there he stood.  No security holding on to him.  Just the man.

He turned to walk out, and I quickened my step so my voice would be heard this time.

I rushed up to him, my hand outstretched, a smile on my face.  He turned, graciously took my hand . . .

“Secretary Mabus, nice to meet you.  I’m just a citizen and I just want to say that I hope you realize you are the savior of the Gulf coast.”

It seemed he wasn’t sure how to respond.  He fumbled for words, “Welllll . . . . I . . . ”

and I interrupted him, “Sir, I’m serious.  You are now the Savior of the Coast.”

With a political smile up front, and a thousand unspoken thoughts flitting across his eyes, he said, “Well, I’ll try to do my best.”

I’m afraid that’s not good enough.  The eyes are the window to the soul, and what I saw inside did not convince me that he intends to be the Savior of the Coast.

About six years ago, Mike Tidwell wrote a book called Bayou Farewell.  He has since visited south Louisiana many times and has come to love the people here.  I heard him speak one spring at the local university and had lunch with him afterward.  Something he said has stuck with me all this time, “It is going to take a grassroots effort to save this coast.  You need a Ghandi or a Martin Luther King, Jr. to save this coast.  Unless you all get on the same page and pull together, this coast will never be saved.”

My friend and director of the national  estuary program was there, and I turned and asked him if he wanted to be the “savior” of the coast.  I’ll never forget his answer, “Uh, in case you people don’t know your history . . . those fellows died for their causes.  I’m not sure I’m willing to do that.”  My friend has since suffered a stroke while fighting for coastal restoration.

Ray Mabus promised verbally today that there is no need to reinvent the wheel where our state’s Master Plan concerning coastal restoration is concerned.  He agreed that everywhere locals can be hired, they should be.  His outlook is optimistic, his responses positive.

When he was given this assignment by the President, he stepped into the biggest shoes anyone will have ever tried to fill for coastal Louisiana, nay, the entire Gulf Coast.

My statement to him was intended to weigh heavy on him–to make him realize the what a big responsibility he was undertaking.  To make him realize this was more than just a token meeting—more than lip service.  We took him seriously.  A last hope, as it were.

One last statement flashed through my mind and went unspoken as someone took him by the arm, turning him away from me . . .

“And as the Savior of the Coast, you’re going to need disciples.  I suggest you find the best twelve you can and get to work.”


Similar Posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


  1. I know you’re not the only person feeling the way you do. Chin up! You “Bayou People” will make a come back stronger than before!

  2. Well spoken, well written and so true. Your opportunity in one on one probably had a greater impact on his thoughts because he received it as a person instead of a politician trying to appeal to an audience. Wendy, you have a big heart, not only for family and friends but for a culture, a way of life and for the future. God Bless you.

  3. I’m glad you went, and thank you mightily for your report to us.

    I hate to say it, but in my own heart of hearts I don’t believe the President, the Congress or the Washington bureaucracy care about Louisiana. I don’t think most of the country understands that Louisiana is their treasure, too.

    So. Maybe if the front door is closed, we go around to the back. Maybe the Savior isn’t a person but a people, banded together in such numbers and with so much commitment that right things can be done despite the people who don’t care.

    I’m just feeling optimistic tonight. Haven’t a clue why, but it’s better than the alternative!

    1. FYI, Linda, he’s not just responsible for the Louisiana coast, he’s responsible for the whole Gulf Coast, including Texas. Optimism is always a good thing, and we can never have too much of that around!

  4. Hey Wendy,

    I remember the conversation with Mike. I also remember the feeling that all of the hundreds and hundreds of people had when the Estuary Program began in 1991. Finally, we all thought, a plan was going to be forged and everyone will finally, once and for all, build a concensus agreement between all concerned about this place we all love to restore it. Since that plan was completed in 1996, i have seen constant replanning going on and very little implementation.

    There was the 2050, plan, several years of the state’s master plan, and now the Gulf Coast Restoration plan…all after the Barataria-Terrebonne National Estuary Program’s Comprehensive, Conservation and Management Plan. Our region can not hold on any longer. We can not endure the constant re-planning. Unless we IMPLEMENT a plan soon, we are doomed to erode away into the Gulf. We are only a hurricane away from total destruction. If we get a hurricane that’s powerful enough and follows the right track, our communities will flood like nothing before. There’s no wetlands “out there” to protect us any longer. We can not live behind levees alone. It’s that simple.


    1. Kerry, thank you for bringing my readers up to date about the years of work the BTNEP has done (including some done by me!). So, I appreciate what you’re saying about the feeling everyone had when the Management Conference was formed: Finally, we’ll all come together and get the coast fixed. And look where we are so many years later. I know people call it gloom and doom, but I know for a fact that the words of destiny that you typed are not easy for you to type, having spent the best years of your adulthood working toward saving this coast, especially this estuary system. I have the utmost respect for your dedication and that of your staff. If there’s anything I can do via this blog, please do not hesitate to ask. It will be done to the best of my ability.

  5. I am so very thankful that our community has such passionate and heartfelt leaders. Thank you, BW, for sharing your story and having the courage to address Secretary Mabus. And thank you, Mr. St. Pe’ for your tireless work to save our beautiful Louisiana coast.