Show Thumbnails
Show Captions

Dominic Massa / EyewitnessNews

Betty Guillaud, who for 20 years chronicled New Orleans' society, celebrity, gossip and city life in her columns for The Times-Picayune and States-Item and is also remembered for popularizing 'The Big Easy' nickname for the city, has died.She was 79.

During her two decades at the newspaper and the earlier States-Item afternoon daily, Guillaud wrote more than 10,000 'Lagniappe' and 'Social Scene' columns, before retiring in 1998.

She remained a fixture on the party and fundraiser circuit even in retirement, appearing in a photo with her daughter just last week, in longtime colleague Nell Nolan's society column in The New Orleans Advocate.

Her daughter,Laure Starring, said her mother died peacefully Saturday evening.

Starring said funeral arrangements are still being arranged, but joked that, as a sign of her mother's well-known love for life, the reverend at Christ Church Cathedral suggested a weekend service, since 'Betty wasn't the type to be memorialized on a Wednesday.'

In a breezy, chatty style, which matched Guillaud's wicked sense of humor and smoky Southern voice, her column covered society parties, charity events, and celebrity comings and goings and what could be termed 'gossip,' though she rarely reported on her subjects in a negative way.

'Betty Guillaud keeps no secrets,' boasted the newspaper in a 1977 advertisement.'From weddings to Carnival balls, from localites to royalty you'll find Betty talking about them.You might not be able to make it to the party, but Betty will tell you who was with whom, what they wore and what they did.'

In her last column, Guillaud described the wide range of subjects she had covered over the years: 'Kings and queens (yes, lots of the latter), literati and glitterati, fibbers and fribblers, convicts and converts, do-gooders and no-gooders, fabricators and prevaricators, and I learned too often, too late, which was which.'

Guillaud's catchphrases, which appeared at the end of many a 'Lagniappe' column, were 'But you knew that' and 'Who else would tell you these things?'But she is also known for 'The Big Easy.'In the 1970s, Guillaud helped bring into vogue the term as a nickname for New Orleans and its carefree attitude.

'It was about the same time they started calling New York 'The Big Apple,'' Guillaud told New Orleans Magazine writer Carolyn Kolb for a story exploring the use of the term.It had been the title of a jazz hall at the turn of the century and a 1970s crime novel but was not in widespread use.'The Big Easy' later became the title of a 1987 movie shot in the city and is now commonly heard as a description for New Orleans.

Guillaud herself was a native of Georgia, who grew up in Alabama.Born Betty Jean Lyles Kilgore, she early on found a calling in journalism.She had her first newspaper byline when she was 12, reviewing books for children and writing a column 'Tween Us Teens' for the Mobile Press Register.After studying at the University of Alabama, she went on to work at the Montgomery Advertiser/Alabama Journal, where she was the first female to witness an execution in that state.

After joining New Orleans States-Item newspaper, Guillaud worked as assistant women's editor and social editor before writing her regular column.She was the first to include photographs of African-Americans on the paper's society pages, according to Press Club of New Orleans historian S.L. Alexander, who profiled Guillaud in 1999 when she received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the organization.

'While reporting on the comings and goings of writers, actors, civic activists, local celebrities and uptown socialites, she also passed on some news tips to her colleagues, including the discovery of the lost Michelangelo sculpture in New York and Mayor Marc Morial's relationship with WWL-TV's Michelle Miller,' Alexander wrote.

In addition to her print career, Guillaud did a stint in the 1960s on television as 'Nancy Nation,' a spokesperson for National Food Stores.She also worked for First Metropolitan Bank, where she established art galleries and senior citizen programs.

Her husband, Andy, died in 2003.She is survived by three daughters and a granddaughter.

Visitation will be Thursday at 10 a.m. at Christ Church Cathedral, with a funeral service to follow at noon.

Read or Share this story: