Former Lt. Gov. James E. Fitzmorris Jr. has just celebrated his 90th birthday, but he’s really celebrating New Orleans’ future.
Fitzmorris, also a former New Orleans councilman, is enjoying robust good health for one who has lived nine decades. “I don’t hunt or fish or play cards,” says Fitzmorris. “My office is my diversion. It is where I am happiest and where I spend the best hours of each day.” Ever since he lost out in the 1979 governor’s race and re-invented himself as one of Louisiana’s best business consultants and lobbyists, the former lieutenant governor – along with Carol Daigle, his capable assistant for 53 years – has loved going to work every day. He still has loyal clients who seek his counsel although he tends to call it quits for the day in the early afternoon.
Fitzmorris emerged on the political scene shortly after World War II when he became a protégé of then-New Orleans Mayor Chep Morrison and was elected to the New Orleans City Council. Fitzmorris is one of the few left who witnessed the 1946 march down Canal Street by hundreds of New Orleans housewives with brooms in hand determined to sweep Mayor Bob Maestri, a member of the Long political machine, out of office. And, of course, they did.
Fitzmorris, who twice lost big races for mayor, in 1965 and 1969, has always been an optimist who believed that New Orleans and Louisiana were going to get better. Today, he says that he has witnessed two miracles in his lifetime – in 1965, when New Orleanians rebuilt the city after Hurricane Betsy devastated it, and in 2005 when New Orleanians once again rebuilt their city in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.
“We are among the most resilient, hard-headed and determined people on the face of the earth,” he says. “Do you remember how in 2005 there were members of Congress who asked why on Earth would anyone want to rebuild New Orleans? Well, we don’t hear much from them anymore. It is just not in our nature to give up. Those who truly love New Orleans would come back after a tsunami to rebuild the city, although of course we hope that never happens.”
Fitzmorris is optimistic for the city’s next generation. “New Orleans’ future is something worth celebrating,” Fitzmorris exclaimed. He thinks Mayor Mitch Landrieu has the right stuff to be one of our greatest mayors. “He comes from a wonderful family where how government could best serve citizens was discussed every day at the dinner table,” says Fitzmorris of the Landrieus.
Fitzmorris predicts that New Orleans will become the “Health Care Capital of the Gulf South” with more than 10,000 good-paying jobs, new ancillary businesses, and millions in tax dollars to fund much needed city services. And, Fitzmorris also thinks that the future expansion of the Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport – under Mitch Landrieu – will spark a larger-than-ever tourism industry and a stronger regional economy.
When Fitzmorris thinks about his 90 years, he says, “I’ve had heartbreaks but I never stayed down. I’ve had triumphs but they never made me complacent. Today, my joy comes from my daughter Lisa and her two gorgeous daughters who are the most recent members of our family to attend Mount Carmel, a wonderful school. I’ve had a great ride and, God willing, it’s not over yet.”
Allan Katz spent 25 years as a political reporter and columnist at The Times-Picayune, and is now editor of the Kenner Star and host of several televsion programs, including the Louisiana Newsmaker on Cox Cable.