Bobby DeBlieux, a Southern man who looked like everyone's stereotyped image of the white Southern gentleman, passed away recently.
In fact that image was used on Natchitoches' advertising brochures and the official website for the town. But he was far more than an image; his knowledge of the history and peoples of Louisiana have been admired by the many who knew him from numerous countries where he had traveled or from where visitors had traveled to the DeBlieux home. His family had emigrated from France to Louisiana centuries ago, and he remained very close to those roots.
The DeBlieux family were among the earliest settlers to Natchitoches, Louisiana in the north central part of the state, making him one of the town blue bloods. But he never sought attention for the distinction, despite solid evidence of ancestry that validated what he might say. Early on he gravitated towards history: collecting it and keeping it safe, in vast archives in his home on the main street of the town of Natchitoches.
History students from all over the world would journey to the DeBlieux' residence to chat with the fellow who often knew more than professors. He was a repository of the history of Louisiana, especially the area around Cane River where the town of Natchitoches is located. Natchiitoches is the oldest town in the Louisiana Purchase, which means in half the United States. The significance of DeBlieux' life and death comes from the fact the Louisiana Purchase was the impetus for the nation's expansion. The DeBlieux family figured heavily in that as those very early settlers to the town.
The town historian, a designation which DeBlieux earned, wrote and studied extensively about the history of Louisiana and the South. He also wrote stories and plays and good books. All of these give a profile of Southern history and culture that gives readers an intimate glance into a way of life appreciated by many people who have traveled or lived in the South.
The old man had worn many hats, as his 75+ years had all shown. He had been mayor of the town of Natchitoches when it was a part-time job in the 70's. He was a military man, who joined the service, like many young men in his time, and saw the world. He loved and lost and loved again and was known for his passion for ladies. He enjoyed tea on a porch, a walk in the sun, a chat on a sidewalk stoop and a healthy discussion on culture, history and politics. His opinion was sought on many things, from how high a building might be to the history of the place where he lived.
He never turned visitors away. DeBlieux owned a bed and breakfast, but he didn't just entertain his overnight guests. His home was on the National Register so he often had people stop by and ask for a tour. He obliged with a smile and no fee.
DeBlieux walked with all men of the town all his life, during difficult times of racial separation. He quietly did what was right, and when he did wrong, he would change it. Through the seasons of life, he was always a spring, with the eager interest in truth and knowledge thought only for youth.
The best of Bobby, as his friends would agree, was his great love for others and his ability to wrap his smile around a stranger with an embrace that said, "You are loved."
He is already missed in Natchitoches, with his death just a short time ago. In the hours as people in Natchitoches reflect on a life well lived and a good reputation well-earned, it's important to tell those who didn't know this great man: a man for all seasons is always, and there's likely one in your town as well.