John A. Pecoul, Jr., died Tuesday, January 29, 2019, in New Orleans, Louisiana. Son of John A. Pecoul, Sr. and Louella Tardy Pecoul, John was a proud native of New Orleans, the city that he loved, and to which he dedicated much of his life. Beloved by his family for his goodness, wisdom, wit, and playful sense of humor, John was a loving husband and father, and a devoted and fun-loving “Baba” to his grandchildren, whom he adored.
Born in New Orleans, Louisiana, on September 7, 1939, John attended local public schools and graduated as valedictorian at Alcee Fortier High School in 1957. In 1961 he received a BA in Philosophy from Elmhurst College in Illinois. It was at Elmhurst that John met the love of his life, Ellen Rasche, whom he married in 1963. His advanced degrees included a Masters of Divinity, magna cum laude, from the Union Theological Seminary in New York, and the International Fellows Certificate from Columbia University, both in 1964. He was ordained in the United Church of Christ (UCC) in 1964, and served as a campus minister until 1966 through the Church and World Institute at Temple University. Influences at Elmhurst and Union, and involvements with civil rights and progressive change there and at Temple, culminated in a life’s ministry in support of racial and social justice. That commitment guided subsequent work in urban policy and government, and in higher education, including an MA in political science from Temple (1967) and political science doctoral candidacy at Tulane University (1972).
Upon completing his education John was a research staff member of the Southern Regional Council in Atlanta (1966-67). He returned to New Orleans to become Director of Housing and Community Services for the Urban League of Greater New Orleans (1967-69). From there he became the first Executive Director of the Human Relations Committee of the City of New Orleans, advising Mayor Victor Schiro and Mayor Moon Landrieu on racial and social justice issues (1969-71). The Human Relations Committee advocated and mobilized community support for the city’s first civil rights law since the post-Civil War reconstruction. That ordinance prohibiting racial and other discrimination in places of public accommodation, resort, and amusement was adopted in December, 1969.
John joined Mayor Ernest N. “Dutch” Morial’s administration in June 1978 as Administrative Assistant for Community Services in the Human Resource Division of the Mayor’s Office. His responsibilities included supervision of the creation of the Women’s Office, the City-School Board Anti-Truancy program, and the Citizen Action Center. He also supervised the City’s volunteer office (VIGOR), the Mayor’s Committee on Handicapped Concerns, International Year of the Child, and the US Census of 1980.
In 1980 John was named Special Assistant to the Mayor and became the principal staff person for the Mayor’s work with national urban organizations, such as the US Conference of Mayors, the National League of Cities, and the National Center for Municipal Development. He supervised programs such as the Mayor’s Clean City Committee and the Arts Council’s contract for city arts activity and policy coordination. In addition, he was liaison with such projects as Jazz Fest, the Citizen’s Committee Against Crime, and the Louisiana World Exposition, 1984.
In the arena of higher education, John taught political science at Xavier University of Louisiana from 1971-78. After leaving the mayor’s staff in 1986, John returned to Xavier as Associate Director/Associate Vice President for Advancement (1986-97), and served as Vice President for Advancement (1997-2000). John’s advancement work included three capital campaigns totaling $165 million, culminating primarily in the Norman C. Francis Academic/Science Complex. John became Special Assistant to Xavier President Norman C. Francis in 2000, and retired in 2003.
John truly lived his life in service to others. He was President of the Board of UCC Back Bay Mission in Biloxi, Mississippi; the New Orleans Coalition; and UCC New Orleans Association. He was a board member for the UCC South Central Conference; New Orleans Museum of Art; Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra; Central Carrollton Association; and Central St. Matthew UCC. John was a dedicated and active member of Central St. Matthew UCC for over 50 years.
John delighted in his family, gardening, politics, movies, and New Orleans. When it came to New Orleans, John was the city’s most optimistic and ardent advocate and ambassador. Friends and family enjoyed John’s famously detailed tours of the city, during which he shared his intricate and layered knowledge of New Orleans, past and present. Known for his eloquence and joie-de-vivre, John was always up for a cultural or arts event, happy to “run the streets” or educate his companions as they explored the latest museum exhibit or festival. A veritable walking history book and self-proclaimed politics junkie, John’s grasp of local and national politics was a marvel to all who knew him. If you needed the latest information on anything New Orleans, whether it was politics, arts, or a good new restaurant to try, John was the person to ask. John’s devotion to New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina was unwavering. Moving away was never an option for him. When he returned, full of optimism about the city’s future but clear-eyed about its challenges, he helped lead the Central Carrollton Association and worked with other citizen task forces to represent his neighbors’ voices in the recovery. Undeterred by health problems, John’s strength came from his faith, humanity, advocacy of civil and equal rights, and decency.
John is survived by his wife, Ellen Rasche Pecoul; daughters Camille Pecoul Carter (John) and Rachel Pecoul Dietz (Kevin); grandchildren Sophia Carter, Marguerite Carter, Isabella Dietz, Francesca Dietz, and John Dietz; and brother William E. Pecoul (Judy). A life-long cat lover, John doted on his beloved kitty, “Miss Minnie.”
A memorial service will take place on March 16, 2019, at Central St. Matthew UCC. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the John A. Pecoul, Jr., Scholarship Fund at Xavier University of Louisiana, the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra, or Central St. Matthew UCC.