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Lynne Durel - September Cover Story

Sep 03, 2015 01:58PM ● By Nicole LaCour

Sundays are sacred for Lynne Durel. “We go to church. We go to Target and we go home to cook.” Joey fires up the barbecue pit and Lynne handles all the sides, taking requests during the week from her seven grandchildren who have learned her specialties. Everyone gathers at the Durel home and the family spends the day talking politics and catching up on their lives. “If we didn’t schedule it, it wouldn’t happen,” Lynne said. With three professional children (Nicole, Jason and Natalie) and a city-parish president, schedules become complicated. So, Lynne carries on a tradition she remembers from her grandmother, the Sunday lunch. “It’s something I look forward to all week,” Nicole said. Joey and Lynne buy treats for the grandkids and hide them all over the house. “My kids are 16 and 14 and they still love looking for treats,” she said.

A quiet, unassuming, humble woman with a sweet voice and kind eyes, Lynne epitomizes the supportive figure of her community and her family. However, behind the somewhat demure exterior of the “First Lady of Lafayette,” is a strong-willed, intelligent role model who has experienced a rather remarkable array of life events and achieved great things in her own right. She has nurtured both strangers and family and traveled all over Europe. She’s donned formal wear at events from Lafayette to Paris, Belgium, and even the White House. She has devotedly sat by the bedsides of both her daughter and mother in their time of need and is an essential source of support to her children. A woman who was hesitant to even sit at the head table when her husband was first elected, she co-chaired one of the most extensive campaigns in Lafayette’s history, the 250th commemoration of the birth of the Marquis de Lafayette, bringing her experience as a business woman, her intelligence and careful reasoning to the extensive planning. She may not seek the spotlight but those lucky enough to know her personally find themselves in the glow of a woman who leads in her own way, by the example of a life of generosity and integrity. 

Lynne remembers the day Joey gathered the family to discuss running for city-parish president. Having served as Chamber of Commerce President and experienced Leadership Louisiana, Lynne knew it had been in the back of his mind. “I guess he was ready,” she said. It was all go with the family, especially the oldest, Nicole. “I’m in,” Lynne remembers her saying. “It will be a fun adventure.” Lynne had some reservations. “As a mom you worry about how it will affect your children.” She knew being in the spotlight could be trying. That wasn’t her only concern. “Joey’s the vivacious one. He’s an open book. I’m more quiet, more reserved.” The idea of being in the fishbowl of political life was “a little terrifying,” Lynne said. But she wasn’t going to let that get in the way of Joey’s goals. She believed in him and knew he would be great at the job.  

Joey’s election changed their lives drastically. “It was a whole new world. I didn’t realize we would be going out so much,” Lynne said. So, she stepped out of the shadows, little by little, adjusting to public life and learning that socializing is not so hard when you get used to it. Lynne likes to tell a story of one evening, when they had four events to attend, one being a Firemen’s Ball, so they were in formal attire. Despite being guests at four parties, there was no time to eat, so Joey and Lynne Durel found themselves in a fast food drive-through at 11pm in an evening gown and tux.  

 For Lynne, the experience has been educational in many ways. She was delightfully surprised to find diverse sub-cultures within our community. The Latino, Asian and Indian cultures, among others greatly contribute to what makes Lafayette such a great place. Of course, Lynne learned about city government and how and why things can or can’t be done at a local level. She also enjoyed hosting and meeting a wide variety of people, including mayors from all over Acadiana and the rest of the country.

Joey and Lynne love to travel and they have visited Lafayette’s sister cities in France, Belgium and Canada, maintaining relationships of education and culture. Many of these cities provided aid and support after Hurricane Katrina. One of Lynne’s favorite places, however is Istanbul. The first time she and Joey went there for a business conference, they were waiting to board a plane in Houston when news came that the Turkish government had violently removed protesters in Taksim Square, an event many consider the birth of the Arab Spring.[1] A friend called and protested, “Are you crazy? You’re not still going, are you?” But Joey and Lynne had obligations and meetings so they got on the plane. Lynne fell in love with the city and they took their family there on their annual vacation a few years later. When asked where she would like to travel once Joey is out of office, Istanbul was the top of the list.

But seeing the Hagia Sofia, the Blue Mosque and terraces of Pamukkale was not the highlight of the past several years. She tells the story of eating a sandwich in her kitchen one day, going through the mail and coming across a heavy, white envelope. “From the President of the United States,” was printed on it. After wondering if it was real or a joke, Lynne finally realized she and Joey had been invited to a state dinner at the White House. It was the evening of a council meeting and Lynne rarely called her husband during a meeting. But this time, she couldn’t wait. “He must have thought it was an emergency because he called me right back. I told him, ‘I think we have an invitation to the White House. Can we go?’”

“Of course we can go,” Joey responded. Lynne remembers sitting at a table with Lynne Cheney with Condoleezza Rice, one table over. They danced to an orchestra, roamed the rooms of the White House and enjoyed all the splendor of the state dinner. True to form, what Lynne leaves out of the story is that it was she, who was the invited guest at the dinner honoring French President Nicolas Sarkozy for her role as co-chair of the Marquis de Lafayette celebrations.[2] She had met the French Ambassador to the U.S., Jean-David Levitte as part of the preparations for the year-long celebrations and she and Joey opened their home to Levitte when he visited South Louisiana just after Hurricane Katrina.

To paint a picture of a life of only privilege, opportunity, travel to exotic places and invitations to state dinners would be a far from accurate image. Lynne Durel has had more than her share of challenges. And she’s met each with a sort of determined selflessness and strength that has been an inspiration for her family and friends.

When Natalie, “a little bitty thing, only five-feet,” was a senior in high school she was performing with her cheerleading squad. “She was the one they tossed around.” As Joey and Lynne sat in the stands, again in formalwear, on their way to an event, Natalie came down from a toss in the air. The other girls cradled her legs but her head fell and hit the gym floor. Lynne and Joey ran down as Natalie was having a seizure. At the hospital Natalie was screaming in pain. The doctors told them she had a concussion and were going to send her home. But Lynne knew better. “She was always a tough cookie. She would fall, bruise and get right back up. I never speak up but I knew from her screaming that something wasn’t right. I told the doctors, ‘no, she doesn’t act like this,’” At her insistence, they scanned her head and found a fracture. The months ahead were rough for Natalie and the family. She required constant care and a long recuperation. She graduated high school with the dedication of staff who escorted her from one class to the other.

 “She didn’t leave my side,” Natalie remembers about her mom. “I had to learn to read again. I had trouble with memory. I had to sleep on a pile of pillows. Mom was there by me every step of the way.”

“My mom showed incredible strength when Natalie needed her,” Nicole said. Natalie admits that she recently found out that doctors had told her parents that she would never complete college. They refused to tell Natalie that. “I have the most amazing parents in the world,” Natalie said. “They always told us we could do anything we wanted to.” The injury wasn’t going to change that. Lynne and Joey refused to allow her accident to be an excuse. Natalie did graduate from college. “They never gave up on me,” she said. “And I’m normal,” she said with a laugh, “and very capable.”

In 2013, Lynne and her good friend Mazie Movassaghi were driving to Acadiana Mall to go for their daily walk. Lynne and Mazie met during the Marquis de Lafayette program and became fast friends. They spend their 45 minutes walks talking non-stop about politics and family. That morning, just as Lynne was looking down at her phone (she wasn’t driving) thinking that one of her daughter’s might need a grandchild picked up, a truck crossed the medium on Ambassador Caffery and collided head-on with their car, pushing it into another car. “I remember hearing Mazie say, ‘There’s a truck is coming at us!,’” Lynne said. Both Mazie and Lynne were seriously injured. Lynne doesn’t remember much about the hours and days that followed until she was out of intensive care. Mazie broke her femur and Lynne broke 11 ribs in 13 places. She had a contusion that left her feeling dizzy and “just not right.” It took a long time to recover. “I had a lot of doctor’s appointments after that. Her family rallied to her aid as she had done for them so often, taking her to appointments. Both Mazie and Lynne had a fear of driving after the accident but they slowly overcame it. “I drive like a grandma now,” Lynne said. She and Mazie still walk in the mall as often as their schedules allow. “We won’t ride in the same car together on the way to exercise,” Lynne said with a laugh. The accident taught her that being in control can be an illusion. “I always thought I had control when I was driving. I realize things are totally out of your control. You can be the best defensive driver in the world but things happen in a split second.” For her children her recovery was a reminder of the impact she had on their daily lives. “I didn’t realize how much I relied on her,” Natalie admitted. “She picked up my kids, cooked for us two or three times a week. I wasn’t sure how I was going to manage without her,” she remembered.

 “She really is the most amazing woman in the world,” Natalie gushed about her mother. By all accounts Joey and Lynne were strict parents, raising their children with a clear sense of right and wrong. Lynne was the quiet, strong example, “The glue that holds us together,” Nicole said. “When she talks, we listen.” Preferring to be behind the scenes, the supporter, the caregiver, the worker bee, Lynne Durel is nonetheless a strong leader, showing the way for those who are around her with guidance, strength, compassion, energy and purpose.

In Her Own Right 

 Lynne and Joey were married their sophomore year in college and Nicole, the oldest of three was born a mere 13 months later. Lynne went to work as a vocational counselor for the Department of Labor. After completing her masters in social work, she counseled and trained people who required help finding jobs, education or training. “It’s very satisfying to help someone,” she said. “The person who cuts my hair was a summer worker for me,” she remembered. “I suggested cosmetology training and told her if she graduated she would cut my hair forever. And she still does.” Lynne found her work uplifting, knowing that she had a direct affect on people’s lives.

As her three children got older and Joey needed more help managing their small chain of pet stores and Arby’s franchises, Lynne left her job and became a business manger. Her skills as a counselor translated easily to managing a young, often inexperienced staff, teaching them about customer service and the value of work ethics. She occasionally returned to the Department of Labor for 6-month or 1-year stints when they needed help.

Looking back at the circumstances of her life, Lynne believes things happened for a reason. Just out of college, Lynne and Joey were considering moving to New Orleans when Lynne discovered she was expecting their first child. So, they decided to stay close to family. A few months later, her father was diagnosed with cancer. She worked with him in his dental practice and remembers that time as a blessing. Later in life, Lynne worked as a volunteer coordinator for Hospice. When her mother suffered a stroke, Lynne felt that she was uniquely prepared to care for her during the last two years of her life. “I feel like God has led me in certain directions,” she said. “When I look back at 61 and see the path my life has taken, the pieces of the puzzle seem to fit.”

Natalie remembers watching her mom care for her grandmother. “It was the most caring, most selfless thing I’ve ever seen in my life. My mom basically quit everything and took care of her mother.” She hired sitters to help her but would still set an alarm and wake up when it was time for her mother’s medication. “The sitters loved her,” Natalie said. “She would cook for them and take care of them, too.”

Today, the pieces of the puzzle are coming together in new and exciting ways. As Joey prepares for what will surely be an active life, Lynne has taken a role in U.S. Senator David Vitter’s campaign for governor, joining her daughter Nicole, the deputy state director for Senator Vitter. Nicole was always the political one in the family, even before her father, she claims. “I always had a yard sign or a button. I was intensely interested in politics at an early age.” It’s a trait she may have inherited from her great-grandfather. Clayton Joseph Guilbeau, Sr., who was sheriff of St. Landry Parish, “when St. Landry was the hot bed of politics,” Lynne explained, and a state representative. Lynne’s father became a dentist instead of a politician. But perhaps the political bug skipped a generation or two, giving Nicole a decisive bite and maybe a nibble on her quietly ambitious mother. 


[1] In May, 2013 what began as an environmental protest against the destruction of green spaces, turned into a larger protest against corruption and the authoritarian regime of Turkey’s Prime Minister Erdogan. This was the beginning of a wave of such movements that spread throughout the Middle East, what many have called, The Arab Spring.

[2] In March, 2005, the City of Lafayette and the Le Centre International took the lead in planning a year long celebration of the birth of Marie-Joseph Paul Yves Roch Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de Lafayette. Lynne Durel and Virginia Stuller co-chaired the committee, working closely with Le Centre’s staff. Over 100 events were held from Lafayette, Louisiana, to Baton Rouge, Washington, D.C. and Paris. Formal galas to lectures, reenactments, historical exhibits, performances and exchange trips to and from Lafayette, Belgium and France were part of the yearlong program. Philippe Justin, international trade manager for Le Centre International remembers Lynne as a reasoned, intelligent and reliable asset who always listened carefully before giving her opinion or making a decision.