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Former St. Tammany Parish President Pat Brister has died

"Parish President Brister was a role model, mentor, and trailblazer for women in Louisiana politics," a family spokesperson said.

ST. TAMMANY PARISH, La. — Former St. Tammany Parish President Pat Brister, a longtime figure in parish and state Republican party politics, died Monday, according to a family spokesperson. She was 73. 

"It is with a heavy heart and deep sadness that the family of Patricia P. Brister announces her passing Monday," a statement announcing the death said. "Parish President Brister was a role model, mentor, and trailblazer for women in Louisiana politics. Among her numerous talents was the ability to bridge diverse ideologies and collaborate to bring about the best solutions and improvements for the people of St. Tammany Parish, and the State of Louisiana."

Arrangements for a public memorial service are being finalized.

Brister had successfully battled breast cancer ten years ago, undergoing a double mastectomy and chemotherapy. 

Prior to the 2009 diagnosis, she had already decided to run for St. Tammany Parish President. “I went on with my plans. (The doctors) assured me, ‘This is just a bump in your road. We can fix this, and you’re going to be alright,’” she told New Orleans Magazine in 2011.

Brister served as parish president for eight years until losing the Nov. 2019 election to former Covington Mayor Mike Cooper.

According to NOLA.com, after beating cancer several years ago, she learned shortly after the runoff election late last year that the disease had returned and that it had spread to her liver. She died three weeks after leaving office.

"Pat Brister was a woman of vision, drive and commitment, who fought for St. Tammany at the local, state and national levels through her many roles in public service," Cooper said in a statement Monday.

“Pat leaves behind a legacy of service, philanthropy and entrepreneurialism. I, along with the employees of St. Tammany Parish Government and all citizens, extend deepest sympathies to Pat’s family and friends at this difficult time.”

Brister was first elected parish president in 2011 with 73 percent of the vote, defeating four other candidates seeking to replace Kevin Davis, who was term-limited. Brister was re-elected to a second term in 2015. 

Her second term was dogged with budget cuts after three failed attempts to renew a pair of sales taxes. In the primary, she trailed Cooper in the election results, a poor showing for an incumbent which analysts often say is a sign of an uphill battle in the runoff.

During the campaign, she touted her record, including successful efforts to get state and federal funds to widen a congested portion of Interstate 12, where a fiery accident killed four people in 2018. 

Brister also pointed to her administration's efforts to create a behavioral health campus, buying the closed Southeast Hospital after Gov. Bobby Jindal closed it.

She was first elected to parish office in 1999 when she won the first of two terms on the St. Tammany Parish Council. 

Brister was a longtime Republican and the only woman to serve as the Louisiana chair of the Republican National Committee. She was the Republican National Committeewoman from 1996 to 2000. She was also a former chair of both the state Republican party and the St. Tammany Parish Republican party.

In 2006, President George W. Bush appointed Brister as the country's ambassador to the United Nations' Commission on the Status of Women, an international panel that promoted women's rights worldwide in political, social, civil and educational fields.

Before leading St. Tammany Parish, she had a decades-long career in Louisiana politics, first spurred by her involvement in a parent-teacher association.

Brister was born in LaGrange, Ga. and worked as executive director for the Northshore Business Council before running for parish president. She was former vice president of Brister-Stephens Inc., the air conditioning and heating company owned by her husband, Joe. He died in 2017. The couple had been married for 40 years. She is also preceded in death by a son, Steven.

Survivors include four children: Jill Beck Heebe, Matt Beck, Mark Beck and Ken Brister, as well as nine grandchildren. 

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