Andy Valence, the colorful former mayor of Grand Isle who, wearing white suit and tie, was famous for fiercely protecting his native barrier island from threat of hurricanes and coastal erosion, died Friday. He was 78.
His son, Randy, said his Valence died late Friday night, but was active up until a recent surgery slowed him down.
“We always said that one day he’s dying and the next day he’s dancing,” Randy Valence said Saturday, remembering his father’s love for life, even with health problems that included heart disease and viral cardiomyopathy.
Born on Grand Isle, Valence was raised in Westwego and New Orleans, though he was best known for his career as the barrier island’s chief executive, often appearing on TV in his trademark white coat and tie. He was first elected mayor in 1988.
Valence made headlines throughout the years for his efforts to protect, enhance and preserve the small island, including a water pipeline, rock-filled breakwaters and even a failed project to use discarded tires to enhance the coastline. Friends and even detractors said his passion for the people of Grand Isle never wavered.
"He was an optimist who saw the best in people," said his former wife, Rose.
As mayor, Valence could also generate controversy, including once threatening to secede from Jefferson Parish to pressure officials into giving the island more money.
He lost a bid for a third term in 1996 (losing by 17 votes) but parlayed his long career and public name recognition into a job as a host at Boomtown Casino, which at the time promoted his stint there in a giant billboard near the Harvey Canal riverboat.
"I thought I'd be mayor until I died," he said. "I slept, I drank, I ate Grand Isle. I was consumed with passion and love for Grand Isle and its people,” he told The Times-Picayune, though in a later story said he enjoyed his job at Boomtown more than he could have ever imagined.
“I thought I could never be happier than being mayor of Grand Isle. I’m happier than I’ve ever been in the world," he said of his job at the casino.
Valence also served a stint as a Westwego alderman, Jefferson Parish School Board member and as the executive director of the Grand Isle Port Commission. He also ran unsuccessfully for Jefferson Parish President.
He is survived by his three children, nine grandchildren, seven great-grandchildren and a brother.
Funeral arrangements are pending.