BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - It’s a tough job, managing 12 personalities with different agendas for their districts, but somehow, and to no surprise to the people around her, 56-year-old Lorri Burgess did it.
Former East Baton Rouge Parish Metro Council member, Byron Sharper, vividly remembers his days at the table.
“When I say she held it in order, she was tough, but she was fair,” Sharper said. “She was our big sister. She was the referee, the coach, and our big sister, so she kept us in order.”
Sharper says it was the councilwoman’s integrity that stood out. She never passed up a chance to share nuggets of knowledge, he says.
“She said, ‘Sharper, always remember all you have is your name,’” he said.
The Burgess name was strong. For her colleagues, it meant being firm and knowing when to bend.
“Lorri was progressive,” said former councilman, Mike Walker “She did not look at just her district, which I appreciated. I had the same belief.”
Perhaps that vision led Burgess to be elected the first African American woman to serve as mayor pro-tem for four out of her 12 years on the council.
“She handled it well. She just did what was right,” Walker added.
However, that’s a title Walker says she didn’t gloat about because it was for the people.
“To Lorri, no big deal. ‘I am a councilman. I represent the people of East Baton Rouge Parish.’ That was her attitude. I always liked that and wanted to work with her on pretty much everything because of that attitude.”
Burgess’ family released the following statement upon learning of her death:
Her servant’s heart brings us to the Sickle Cell Association of South Louisiana. Burgess served as the executive director of the foundation.
Former NFL player and LSU football standout Ryan Clark says Burgess had a “heart for the community and the sickle cell community.” Clark has partnered with the Sickle Cell Association of South Louisiana for several years as the honorary chairperson of Ryan’s Run/Walk in downtown Baton Rouge. The annual race aims to raise awareness for sickle cell disease.
“It was awesome to see someone give that much of themselves to this community. She gave so much to people that she may never meet or never know. It was just part of her selfless nature,” Clark said.
Clark says Burgess had the passion and vision to bring about change.
“She would implore and do so much work herself," he said.
He says the people around her began to take on that perspective of just making things happen no matter what.
“I think that’s the sign of a good leader. It’s not just your words that make people spring into action, but it’s watching you and being able to draw from that. She had a truly great spirit. She will definitely be missed," said Clark.
Clark says he will continue to honor Burgess by working to bring awareness to sickle cell and she will forever be a part of the movement.
“She was probably one of the greatest public servants I ever saw in my life,” Sharper said. “She worked hard all the time, day and night.”
Her duties kept her busy, but her former metro council comrades say she wouldn’t have had it any other way, because like anything else, it starts with leadership.
“Lorri was a good leader,” Walker said.
Former councilman, Darrell Ourso, agrees. He served on the council with Burgess for nine years. Ourso says Burgess was an “effective and thorough parliamentarian."
“She always ran a good meeting. She was very dedicated to her district and the many causes to help improve the lives of those in need. I extend my condolences to her family and friends,” he said.
Friends say Burgess would have celebrated her 57th birthday on Jan. 25.
East Baton Rouge Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome initially announced the news of Burgess’ death Wednesday evening (Jan. 15).
“Baton Rouge lost a committed public servant today with the passing of former Councilwoman Lorri Burgess. She was a passionate advocate for our community. My most heartfelt prayers and condolences are extended to her family and loved ones during this time,” Broome said in the tweet.