Cecil J. Picard
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|Cecil J. Picard|
|Louisiana State Senator from District 25 (Acadia, Calcasieu, Cameron, Jefferson Davis, and Vermilion parishes)|
|Preceded by||Ned Doucet, Jr.|
|Succeeded by||Gerald Theunissen|
|Louisiana House of Representatives District 47 (Vermilion Parish)|
|Succeeded by||Sam H. Theriot|
|Louisiana Superintendent of Education|
September 1996 – February 15, 2007
|Succeeded by||Paul Pastorek|
January 1, 1938|
Maurice, Vermilion Parish
|Died||February 15, 2007
Baton Rouge, Louisiana
|Resting place||St. Alphonsus Catholic Church Mausoleum in Maurice, Louisiana|
|Spouse(s)||Gaylen David Picard|
|Children||Tyron and Layne Picard|
|Alma mater||Sam Houston State University|
Cecil J. Picard (January 1, 1938 – February 15, 2007) was the appointed Louisiana state superintendent of education from 1996 until his death in 2007, which followed a 21-month fight against Lou Gehrig's disease. Picard also served as a Democratic member of both houses of the Louisiana State Legislature. A native of the village of Maurice in Vermilion Parish in southwestern Louisiana, Picard was previously a teacher, coach, and principal.
Early years and education
Picard was born to Romain Picard and Evangeline Picard (1912–1990). He grew up on the grounds of Maurice High School because his father was the principal, and the Vermilion Parish School Board provided housing as part of the compensation. As a boy, Picard often gazed into the windows of the school, and although he was still too young to attend classes, he wondered what was happening inside the building. Despite his misgivings about a career in education, Picard graduated from Maurice High School and thereafter procured a bachelor's degree in upper elementary education program at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, then Southwestern Louisiana Institute and later the University of Southwestern Louisiana. He obtained a Master of Arts degree in school administration from Sam Houston State University (then Teacher's College) in Huntsville, Texas.
In 1959, Picard began his educational career as a teacher at LeBlanc Elementary School in Erath in Vermilion Parish. He became a teacher/coach at Maurice High School in 1962. When his father died in 1969, Picard was named principal of Maurice High School, a position that he held for the following eleven years.
Both houses of the legislature
After three years in the state House, he won a special election to complete the term of state Senator Ned Doucet, Jr., in District 25, which encompasses all or parts of Acadia, Calcasieu, Cameron, Jefferson Davis, and Vermilion parishes. As Picard went to the Senate, he was succeeded in the house by Sam H. Theriot of Abbeville, son of the late Louisiana Comptroller Roy R. Theriot. Picard retired as principal when he entered the Senate, but his interest in education continued. Picard was elected to his first full term as senator in the fall of 1979 and again in 1983, and 1987, when he defeated fellow Democrat Wade Vincent, 16,933 votes (73 percent) to 6,203 (27 percent). In the primaries of 1991 and 1995, Picard ran unopposed. He left early in his last elected term to assume the superintendency.
Appointment as superintendent
Picard was named superintendent by the elected Board of Elementary and Secondary Education with the support of his former senatorial colleague, then Governor Murphy J. "Mike" Foster of St. Mary Parish, a Democrat turned Republican. At the time he became superintendent, Picard headed the Senate Education Committee and had just lost a bid to become president of the state senate, the position having instead gone to fellow Democrat Randy Ewing of Quitman in Jackson Parish in north Louisiana.
Foster said that his friend Picard "made a lot of headway [toward improving education]. He did a good job, and I never heard anyone say he didn't."
Picard was succeeded in the state Senate by Democrat Gerald Theunissen of Jennings, who defeated the Republican state party chairman Mike Francis of Crowley. Theunissen himself later switched to Republican affiliation.
Colleagues remember Picard
Walter C. Lee, then the superintendent of DeSoto Parish in north Louisiana and the former school chief in Caddo Parish as well, said that Picard was "the best politician I'd ever seen, and he'd chuckle and say, 'I'm not a politician. I'm a statesman.'" Lee said that he considered Picard to have been the most effective of all Louisiana superintendents. Picard was particularly known for the implementation of an accountability program that was recognized nationwide.
State Representative Jane H. Smith, a Republican from Bossier City, and herself a former superintendent in Bossier Parish, described Picard as "a warrior and a fighter. He was right there until the very end, doing what he could. He had a passion for the job."
Both Lee and Smith now served on the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education.
Picard participated in an experimental drug program in a vain attempt to counter the disease, technically termed amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. He continued working at his office until November 2006. After that, he worked from his residence until he was incapacitated. Picard had planned to retire on May 1. At the time of his death in a Lafayette hospital, the BESE board was already seeking a temporary successor.
Picard's chief assistant, Carole Wallin, said that he was "taken from us before he accomplished all of his dreams. . . . He was always dreaming of things to do to improve education."
Wallin recalled that Picard was the principal when Maurice High School was desegregated. Years later, his first act as superintendent was to begin a tour of the state's school districts. The levels of poverty he encountered appalled him, she said. Picard hence decided that perhaps the best way to lift children was to begin teaching them at an early age. That resulted in the LA4 pre-school program.
Services for Picard were held in St. Alphonsus Catholic Church in Maurice and were broadcast on a television hookup from a nearby school to handle the overflow of mourners. Entombment was in the church mausoleum. The St. Alphonsus pastor, the Reverend O. Joseph Breaux, said that Picard's life was best portrayed in a photograph of the superintendent published on the front page of the Lafayette Daily Advertiser the day after his death. It shows Picard seated in a classroom surrounded by children, "as it must have been when Jesus gathered the little children around him. He taught as Jesus taught."
Picard and his wife, the former Gaylen David, had two sons and four grandchildren. Tyron and Layne Picard said in a statement distributed at the funeral that their father's life "can be summed up in one sentence: He taught us to believe. As a father, he taught us to believe success was possible. Not a single day did he bemoan his undeserved fate. Quite the contrary, he accepted his condition with peace and deepened his relationship with God."
Former state Representative Jimmy D. Long of Natchitoches, the chairman of the University of Louisiana System board of supervisors, headed the House Education Committee when Picard was chairman of the corresponding Senate committee. He said that the two developed a working and friendly relationship. "Cecil and I authored a raft of education reform," Long said in his eulogy.
According to Long, Picard was comfortable with himself, and it showed. . . . He told me, 'People believe honesty, and they're not easily misled,' which is how he led his life. . . . Cecil could get things done. His political legacy is [that] he made sure Louisiana's children have the opportunity for a better education."
The family requested that Picard be remembered through memorial contributions to the Cecil Picard Endowment Fund to benefit the eponymous Cecil J. Picard Center for Child Development and Lifelong Learning at his alma mater, the University of Louisiana at Lafayette.
- List of Louisiana State Senators since 1880 (Baton Rouge: Secretary of State)
- List of Louisiana House of Representatives members since 1880 (Baton Rouge: Secretary of State)
|Louisiana State Representative from District 47 (Vermilion Parish)
Cecil J. Picard
Sam H. Theriot
Ned E. Doucet, Jr.
|Louisiana State Senator from District 25 (Acadia, Calcasieu, Cameron, Jefferson Davis, and Vermilion parishes)
Cecil J. Picard