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Community leader, educator, Dr. Elliot Willard dies

2nd January 2013   ·   0 Comments

By Phil Stelly
Contributing Writer

Dr. Elliot Willard, a venerated educator and community leader, died Monday of cancer. He was 81.

Dr. Willard, known affectionately as “Doc,” was named the first lay principal of St. Augustine High School in 1969. Subsequently he served as an assistant superintendent at the Louisiana Department of Education. He later became principal at Booker T. Washington High School in 1977 and served in that post until 1983.

Dr. Willard also served five years as a member of the Orleans Parish School Board until he lost a runoff election in 2004. He was one of four board members voted out that year following attempts to fire Superin­tendent Anthony Amato, reported last week.

Despite several electoral losses in his political career, Dr. Willard became known as the patriarch of a politically active family where some of his 12 children did follow him into public service. One son, Benedict Willard, is a judge; and his daughter, Cynthia Willard-Lewis, has served in the Louisiana Legislature and on the New Orleans City Council.


Since his passing, friends and associates have praised Dr. Willard as an unselfish community servant. Among the many tributes is one from former New Orleans Mayor Marc Morial. Dr. Willard, Morial said, influenced his political career. “He lived a life of unselfish giving to family and community. At every instance he always had a kind word and an encouraging thought to share with me throughout my career in New Orleans politics,” said Morial, the current president and CEO of the National Urban League.

The Willard Family issued a statement in the wake of Dr. Willard’s death: “The family wishes to express their heartfelt thanks for the outpouring of support and love shown by the community. Dr. Willard taught his family morals and values utmost of which was service.”

Dr. Willard is survived by his wife of 60 years, Mary Jane, and 12 children: sons Elliot Jr., Walter, Christopher, Dominic, Martin and Benedict; and daughters Cynthia Willard-Lewis, Regina Haines, Jacinta Hutchin­son, Bernadette Green, Lucita Ralph and Katherine Willard. He is also survived by 37 grandchildren and 14 great-grandchildren.

In recognition of Dr. Willard’s many years of public service, the Willard family held services Friday to allow well-wishers to say their final goodbyes. On Friday, Dr. Willard’s remains lied in state at the St. Augustine High School Chapel. As she waited for the service at St. Augustine to begin, mourner Marlena Jordan remembered Dr. Willard as an educator whose influence went beyond the classroom. “When we needed a talking to, he would come to the house and set us straight,” Jordan said “He was a great man, a great leader. For me, he was my Martin Luther King.”

A public ceremony and memorial service celebrating the life of Dr. Willard was held Friday evening at St Raymond/St. Leo the Great Catholic Church. At Saturday’s funeral Mass at the church, Dr. Willard was honored by two groups with which he was long been associated: Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. and the Knights of St. Peter Claver.

Dr. Willard was also a member of the Southern Christian Leader­ship Conference, the NAACP and the Urban League.

The mass at St. Raymond/St. Leo was followed by burial at Mt. Olivet Cemetery.

This article was originally published in the December 31, 2012 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper

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