Mr. Bill Landry (Deceased)
July 31, 1943 - August 16, 1998
"Writing About Bill" by Courtney Landry Saucier DCRDS@aol.com
My brother, Bill “Blackjack" Landry passed away on August 16,1998. He was 55. Bill was one of the most remarkable people ever to have graced humanity and he lived his life in the manner of saints I've read about. I will always be sad that Bill is no longer with us and miss him terribly, but I know that God's hand reached down and blessed Bill with a heroic mission while he was here on earth.
On July 31,1943, my mother delivered Bill breech and he lost oxygen for 20 minutes. This was before the age of heart monitors and emergency “C" sections. Because of the loss of oxygen there resulted some impairment with his motor skills. His speech was a little slurred which might make you think that he wasn't very intelligent. Talking with him for a few minutes would prove that theory to be incorrect. Bill had a wonderful sense of humor and he was very witty!
Bill was my son, Ryan's, godfather. Not married and without children of his own, he was the epitome of a perfect godfather. In all, he had 14 godchildren that he treated like royalty. Not only did he shower them with thoughtful and generous gifts for every occasion, most importantly he gave them a priceless gift - the gift of his presence and his time. He really took his responsibility seriously and he was there for them spiritually. Bill attended mass every day, no doubt praying for his godchildren, parents, siblings and his multitude of friends.
Bill was diagnosed with colon-liver cancer on July 4,1998. He was not a complainer and even when the pain was intolerable he said that he was all right. Since there was nothing that the doctors could do for him he went home to Jeanette and Irwin Sibille. That was fine with Bill. The only thing that he wanted was to get better so that he could go back to work as USL's equipment manager. He was a man who couldn't wait to go to work in the morning. Not because he was anxious to make huge sums of money or to become famous or powerful. He just loved USL and the work that was such an important part of his life for the past 36 years!
Jeanette and Irwin asked Bill to move in with them while Bill was living at the stadium. Bill was like a member of their family for 30 years and the Sibille's quickly became family to all of the Landry's. Jeanette and Irwin are the most wonderful people that you'd ever want to meet. They opened their home to many people over the years and have had several of them die in the peace and love of the Sibille home.
Things happened fast for Bill and in a matter of 2 weeks his health and appearance deteriorated tremendously. He was all of a sudden very weak and thin. But he never gave up and felt sorry for himself. He chose life in every moment and gave it all he had. Throughout his life Bill gave so much of himself and when he found himself in this dire situation people wanted to be with him and give something back to their beloved BJ. They came in droves to the Sibille home to visit him.
My whole family was still in shock from the initial news when Bill passed away. It was only five and a half short weeks, yet that time was such a gift to us and to Bill. We had the chance to be with him and try and show him how much he meant to us. He had the opportunity to see an enormous outpouring of love from his family, friends and the community.
Before his passing, articles were printed in local newspapers expressing the impact that Bill made while he was here. The day before Bill passed on, he was honored with a mass and reception at USL. It was like a living funeral. Bill was there, his physical body totally at the end of its limits; his spirit strong. At the reception he was informally inducted into the “S" Club- Hall of Fame. He was unanimously selected as the first non-athlete to join the ranks of this prestigious club. The city proclaimed that day, Saturday August 15, “Bill Blackjack Landry Day".
I normally wouldn't say that a funeral was beautiful, but Bill's funeral was because it was a celebration of his life. There were 8 priests on the altar. The entire USL football team came dressed out and were honorary pallbearers.
Fr. Steve LeBlanc, who knew Bill well when he was the chaplain at USL, was the celebrant. The eulogy that Fr. Steve gave captures the essence of Bill's spirit. I'd like to share some of it with you. Father Steve said that he “truly believes that God puts people in our world that express what life is all about. Bill made the scriptures come alive. St. Paul stated that God chooses the weak to confound the strong. Bill was inserted into a world of the physically powerful- a man who had some physical impairment. And in the world in which he was inserted came egos of all shapes and sizes - most of them extra large. And he with his presence would just look and say, ‘Get over yourself. How can you live in such a false self, a self that is so superficial, a self that is below our dignity, a self that is always needing to know how well am I doing, how well am I performing, how much am I getting.' Bill's presence changed the question to ‘HOW AM I LOVING?' And he would wash and wash and wash again, folding, bagging and dispensing each player's equipment with the same care for all. By his actions he said THIS IS HOW TO LIVE LIFE AND TRULY BE A SUCCESSFUL PERSON!"
Fr. Steve referred to the scripture from the Sermon on the Mount “Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth. The earth was BJ's. He was a free man. He had nothing, yet he had everything." He didn't have what the world thought was important. He didn't own a home or a car. He didn't have a wife or kids of his own. Bill was totally free because he had no attachments. Most of us are enslaved by the objects of our “success", our material possessions. We think we can't be happy without them. Bill lived his life as a totally free and happy man.
Fr. Steve concluded with this poem:
“Is there a leaf upon the tree
The Father doesn't see?
Leaves fall, so do we all
Return to earth, to soil
Sparrows and kings,
And all manner of things
Fall, fall into the hands
Of the living God.
Blackjack, the journey is over.
That long, hard journey.
Blackjack, you are relieved. We are relieved
Blackjack, it is finished.
Blackjack, by the grace of God,
It is just beginning!"
At the first USL home football game on September 12,1998, my brother Bill was inducted posthumously into the Hall of Fame. There was a ceremony at half time where the award was presented to my parents.
The anguish over losing a child is almost unbearable so this was a bittersweet event for them. We are all so proud of Bill. In his gentle, humble way he has changed the lives of thousands of people. Bill was described as the heart and soul of the USL athletic department.
As I think about Bill and his life I know that in his 55 years that he did what God put him here to do. In his Christ-like way he touched lives every day that he was alive. He taught us how to live by his example. How many of us are going in the wrong direction in our lives, placing too much importance on things that don't really matter? Bill has taught us that life is precious and that the regrets we will have at the end of our lives will be few if we put people ahead of things as Bill did.
Bill's character is rare in our world today. His goodness and love for everyone was truly unconditional. Bill lived every day in total acceptance of God's will until he took his last breath of life on earth. He has modeled what it really means to be a winner. It's not the definition that the world would give, but if we lived as Bill did, everyone would win and the world would be a better place.
"The Passing of a Gentle Man" by Don Allen, Times of Acadiana, August 27, 1998.
There were four of them and probably none over the age of 16. There wasn't much to do in New Iberia back in the '60s, especially for underage kids with no money. But rebellion will find a way. So one day behind a couple of houses and away from the prying eyes of adults, Billy and his friends opted for the thrill of smoking for the first time.
They had no money for cigarettes, but who needed money? In a field behind those houses were weeds topped by an okra-like pod that, when dried, could be smoked. Billy swore that he never lit up, but his pals spread the word anyway.
And from that day forth, few people ever called him Billy again. They instead referred to him after that funky, cigarette-substitute found in open fields and known to locals as blackjack.
William Hathorn “Blackjack" Landry just sort of came along with the package when Raymond Blanco left Catholic High in New Iberia to become an assistant football coach with USL. Blackjack became equipment manager for the football team in the spring of '63 and moved in with another assistant, Irwin Sibille, a couple of years later. Never mind that Irwin and Jeanette already had three children, now they had another.
The next three decades saw Blanco rise to vice president of student affairs at USL while Sibille was named commissioner of athletics for the state. Five different men held the head coaching job at USL, while a handful of athletic directors and a bevy of football assistants came and went. Only Blackjack remained constant, doling out equipment on a yearly basis to the thousands of athletes that passed through USL's portals. Over time, his passions became legend - the Yankees, Cowboys, Celtics and, above all, Ragin' Cajuns.
Gerald Broussard, USL's receiver coach, remembers first meeting the equipment manager when Broussard was a 12-year-old ballboy. Blackjack (now BJ or Beej to his friend) loved kids. There was an innocence about Blackjack that kids could relate to. But while BJ was sharp as a tack and possessed a marvelous memory, Sibille compares his emotional level to that of a 10 or 12 year old. And it was a motor-retardation from an early age that was responsible for BJ's slowness of speech, sort of like John Wayne at half-speed.
But people or players meeting Blackjack for the first time who
confused the slow drawl for a lack of intelligence were soon set straight.
“He never held anything back" says Broussard. “He was so genuine in all his thoughts and actions and so non-judgmental towards everybody else, but, hey, make him mad and you'd get his opinion in a heartbeat. He'd make sure you knew what he thought."
BJ had, as Broussard put it, an offensive-lineman's mentality. At that position, you learn to exist in the background, without accolades. An equipment manager, mired deep within the bowels of an athletic complex, might easily identify with their lot in life. So it's no surprise that the grunts occasionally ended up at BJ's house in New Iberia for a day of barbecue, tennis and swimming.
“He made the freshmen feel like human beings," says Sibille. “They'd come in here all alone and scared to death and here's Bill with their equipment waiting for them because he already knew everybody's number. He let them know there was somebody on their side."
“He treated you for who you were, not what you were," remembers Broussard.
On July 4, Blackjack, who was 55, complained to Sibille of stomach pains. Sibille knew that Landry had a high threshold for pain - BJ had once fallen out of the back of the equipment truck while delivering laundry and was more worried about making sure the uniforms were washed than having his concussion treated. So for BJ to complain meant something was wrong.
The cancer was inoperable. There would be no extended stay in the hospital; instead BJ went home with Irwin and Jeanette. Nearly 70 well-wishers and friends stopped by every day to visit BJ, so many that no one even bothered answering the doorbell anymore. There was just a sign that read “If you're here for Bill, just come on in."
By Sunday, Aug. 16, BJ was in a virtual coma. Greetings were uttered only by visitors, and conversation was nonexistent. Yet when Broussard slipped a tape of USL's practice that day into the VCR and the whistles on the field started blowing, Blackjack sat up.
“I've gotta go to work, coach, I've gotta go to work."
That night, on the 50th anniversary of Babe Ruth's death, another sports icon passed away. William Hathorn “Blackjack" Landry didn't hit home runs or score touchdowns or slam dunks. Instead, he distributed both helmets and love in equal parts, delivered with a natural innocence and honesty seldom found these days.
Managers: 1963, 1964, 1965, 1966, 1967, 1968, 1969, 1970, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1974, 1975, 1976, 1977, 1978, 1979, 1980, 1981, 1982, 1983, 1984, 1985, 1986, 1987, 1988, 1989, 1990, 1991, 1992, 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 1997, 1998
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