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Mr. Curtis Johnson

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cjohnson3372@yahoo.com
Curtis Johnson's Living Memorial for Coach Raymond Blanco's Tribute was submitted on February 23, 2021 and posted that day by Ed Dugas.

Tribute to Raymond Blanco
By
Curtis L. Johnson
UL/USL Class of 1977

First, to appreciate how improbable it would be for me to develop a lifelong friendship with Coach Raymond Blanco, some context is needed. I am a black man who came of age in the turbulent sixties. I grew up in a suburb of New Orleans where racism and segregation were the order of the day. Prior to my meeting Coach Blanco, I had served two years in the U.S. Marine Corps where black nationalism was the prevailing philosophy of young black Marines. While my parents were adamant in teaching me to judge the character of the person, regardless of race or status, my approach to whites however was with great skepticism. Consequently, my relationship with white colleagues up to that point in my life did not run very deep. While I could be very friendly and professional toward my white colleagues, I was not vested in the idea of building deep personal relationships because of the general cruelty of whites towards blacks.

I first came to know Coach Raymond Blanco by reputation when I was an undergraduate at USL, aka University of Louisiana at Lafayette, in 1975. Coach Blanco was a charismatic leader who had achieved celebrity status with the student body. Little did I know however that my life would forever become intertwined with Coach Blanco. Ironically, it was not until I graduated and left the university for my first professional job in Beaumont Texas that I met Coach Blanco and engaged with him personally. This meeting was arranged by Dean Rex Hauser, the dean of the USL Business School. Coach Blanco and Dean Edward Pratt were recruiting to fill a vacant Assistant Director’s position in the Office of Student Financial Aid. We met in Lake Charles for lunch where we were introduced. Our meeting went quite well, and Coach Blanco lived up to his outsize reputation. He dominated the conversation, covering every subject except the job vacancy which was the pretext for our meeting. Nevertheless, by the end of our meeting I was sold on the job. Not because of the attractiveness of the job, but rather the influence of Coach Blanco’s personality. I was intrigued by Coach Blanco’s social philosophy, leadership style, and personal charisma which was delivered in an uncouth manner that added to his authenticity or street credibility. Did I mention Coach Blanco dominated the conversation? Of course, he did.

Again, Coach Blanco is an outsize personality. However, Coach Blanco is much more than an attractive personality, he is profoundly substantive. Coach Blanco is a leader with a highly developed emotional IQ that allows him to connect with people at more than a surface level. He genuinely cares about people, all people, regardless of race, creed, or color. For example, he understood that students, not faculty or administrators, were the reason for the university’s existence. While this philosophy served him well over the years, it was not without conflict and tension with both the faculty and staff. I recall one faculty member on the USL Faculty and Staff Disciplinary Committee complained that Coach Blanco gave a young student who planted a bomb under the ROTC building a scholarship and returned him to the classroom, which was a bridge too far for that faculty member. However, what the faculty member did not understand, which Coach Blanco did, was that the only way the student could afford to continue at
the university was to maintain his access to financial aid. Another highlight for me while at USL was to hear Coach Blanco address parents at orientation meetings. By the end of his session, parents would give Coach Blanco a standing ovation. Coach Blanco had a way of explaining the limitations of in loco parentis that was both enlightening and entertaining. But, more than that, parents appreciated Coach’s love for their students.
In addition to loving his students, Coach Blanco loved his staff and their families. Coach Blanco would go out of his way to make sure you understood the depth of his commitment to you and your family. Coach Blanco and I shared many key events in my life: the death of my father, the delivery of my first two children, my graduate school graduation ceremony to name a few. Moreover, his home was an extension of his office. His wife Kathleen and their children were all a part of our extended family. While I have spent considerably more time away from Coach Blanco and his family than with them, we never lost touch. When I left the university in 1988, I spent the next thirty years in the Northeast very business pursuing my career and family goals. Nevertheless, whenever my family and I visited Lafayette Coach Blanco and Kathleen, who by that time was highly active politically, would always spend time with us. Each visit had the feel of a family reunion. Even today, my kids will recall those visits to Lafayette, spending time with Coach Blanco and Kathleen.

Clearly, the skepticism I might have had early in my life about relationships with whites generally and later with Coach Blanco was removed due to the content of Coach Blanco’s character. Coach Raymond Blanco is a man of high integrity who loves people and has and will continue to sacrifice himself for them. What better friend is there than one willing to sacrifice himself?
University Faculty/Staff (current & former):  1979, 1980, 1981, 1982, 1983, 1984, 1985, 1986, 1987, 1988


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