Locals from Gretna and all over the Westbank are mourning the loss of a devoted husband, father and friend who fell victim in this debilitating pandemic. Whether you knew him as Babson, BJ or Babo LeBlanc, he was the same peaceful, easygoing guy so loved by so many.
BJ was 72 years old, just a questionable 5’ 4” tall, but a giant when it came to personal character and good will.
He was the Director of Facilities at the Gretna Historical Society Museum Complex in Old Gretna. He left this world on March 5, 2021 and everyone who knew him are stunned with the loss.
Born on March 21, 1948, BJ was a devout Catholic, a loving and devoted husband to his other half, Judy Becnel LeBlanc, the love of his life for 48 years. He was the loving father and hero of their three children, Heather Souvinette, Heidi LeBlanc and Joshua LeBlanc, and their six grandchildren.
Locals have fond memories of him as Santa. He had the most Santa-like beard in the perfect color and he could really rock a red velvet suit, making him the very best Santa Claus ever! The minute he stepped into that suit, he was transformed into the real Santa, and Judy, as his Mrs. Claus was icing on the cake.
For many years, he lit the official Christmas tree on Canal Street and played Papa Noel at the Ritz Carlton. He was Santa at the Bourbon Orleans, along with other hotels and venues. With pictures of cute kids with him all over, the legacy of the twinkly-eyed perfect little Santa will live on!
The funny everyday Santa thoroughly enjoyed time with his family and friends. He loved telling Boudreaux jokes, costuming and making people laugh at his many faces, sometimes a Leprechaun, a Hippie, Warlock or even Uncle Sam.
An only child, he was an outgoing, friendly man who never met a stranger. His friends have stories, usually funny ones about BJ. One such tale goes back to when he was a bank teller with First National Bank at the Westwego location. You see, BJ was a smoker, totally acceptable back in the day. When a customer drove up to the drive-up window, BJ would place his lit cigarette on the edge of the money drawer.
One day, after serving a customer, he locked the money drawer and left to pick up lunch at the Keyhole in Westwego. He was upstairs back at the bank, just biting into his sandwich when his boss, Sammy Marchese yelled for him to get back down to the drive-up window. BJ yelled, “What’s the problem, I just started to eat.” Sammy yelled back, “There is smoke coming out of your cash drawer!” Seems BJ’s lit cigarette had dropped into the drawer, smoldering on top of a stack of $20 bills!
A 1966 graduate of Archbishop Shaw High School, he was past president and an active member of Shaw’s Alumni Association. In 1972, he was selected to escort that year’s homecoming queen, Wendy Hymel (Thibodeaux) and in 2012 was named Shaw’s Alumnus of the Year.
The LeBlanc’s are Charter Members of Ms. Patsy’s Child of God Memorial Foundation, a charity honoring the late Patsy Heiden, teacher and longtime friend of the couple. “Patsy’s Posse” sponsors the popular annual “Woodstock is Forever Dance.” Babo was in his glory doing dress up in 60’s hippie garb with 500 other people.
Babo, and Judy have always been “da Rockets” groupies, always loved the band’s concerts. They were longtime best friends with band members Ray and Wanda Markase.
“I’ve known Babo for over 50 years. He was so short and, I was so tall, people used to say that we looked like a “10” when we walked together!” Ray reminisced.
“He and I practically grew up at Expressway Lanes in Gretna. We loved bowling and watched it together on TV every chance we got. Our wives went to weekly prayer group meetings and Babo and I would scour the internet and cable TV for bowling shows.
“We worked together at FNJ in Gretna in the 70’s and went to lunch together practically every day, mostly at Expressway Lanes. After we ate we would join two other friends, Eric LaGrange and Danny Hurd and play pinball, foosball or video game machines. We were extremely competitive, acted like 10 year olds.
“In the 80’s, Babo and I began working together at French Market Homestead. There we formed a brotherhood with a dozen other guys around our age that has lasted decades. We have been getting together every year since 1985 to watch the NFL AFC/NFC Championship games. Due to Covid, 2020 was the first year we missed in over 35 years.
“After Hurricane Katrina, Wanda and I purchased a small Cajun cottage in St. Martinville, Louisiana. Every chance we got we went there on weekends and the LeBlanc’s often came with us. Saturday mornings the girls would go shopping and Babo and I would stay and watch the DVD collection that we put together that recreated the Saturday morning TV lineup that we grew up watching, like Roy Rogers, Fury, Sky King and Ramar of the Jungle. We shared a passion for old TV shows and music of the 50’s and 60’s. Babo was the only person I knew besides myself who remembered all the old TV shows and music.
“In 2012, we began traveling as a group, later calling ourselves Dolce Sedici, the Sweet Sixteen when we took a tour of Italy and Sicily. In 2014 we toured the United Kingdom, in 2016 we took both an Alaskan Cruise and a tour of the New England states. In 2017 we went to Las Vegas, 2018 we rented a villa in Tuscany, 2019 we took a tour of France and in 2020 we rented a beautiful cabin in Gatlinburg. Sadly, that would be Babo’s last trip with the group,” Ray said.
“To say that our travel group cut up and laughed constantly would be a gross understatement. We literally got kicked out of a hotel bar in France for being too loud, and we were in a private room off to the side. On our first trip to Italy, we were disciplined by the owner of a restaurant, again for being too loud. He didn’t kick us out, he put us on “probation.”
“Babo, Judy, Wanda and I got together on many, many occasions, more like family than friends. We had a standing breakfast arrangement at Common Grounds every Saturday morning for years and enjoyed being in the walking Krewe d’ Pete on Mardi Gras in Old Gretna.
“Babo and I were basically 10 year olds trapped in adult bodies whenever we got together. We did everything we could to make each other laugh and we were each other’s best audience. Babo had a knack for accents and dialects and could imitate other people’s speech patterns and voices. Not many others got to see that hilarious side of him. He was one of the few people who could make me laugh out loud.
“Babo was one of the kindest, most generous, unique people I have ever known. There has just not been anyone else quite like him in my life. I loved him like a brother and will miss him every single day,” Ray sadly said.
Family and friends are invited to attend a visitation and funeral Mass at St. Joseph Catholic Church and Shrine, 610 6th St. in Gretna. Visitation will be March 15 from 6 – 9 p.m. and March 16 beginning at 8 a.m., followed by a funeral Mass at 10 a.m. Interment will be at Westlawn Cemetery.
In lieu of flowers, the family is asking for donations to: Ms. Patsy’s Child of God Memorial Foundation, 640 Olive Street, Harvey, LA 70058.