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A. L. & Audrey Vitter: Role Models Extraordinaires

Mimi and Père wedding photo A. L. & Audrey Vitter.

Jeff Vitter's parents Albert Leopold (A. L.) Vitter Jr. (1915–2003) and Audrey Malvina (née St. Raymond) Vitter (1920–2005) led lives of extraordinary service and caring for others. Their impact lives on through their six children, 15 grandchildren, and 13 great great grandchildren as well as the many others whose lives they touched.

Audrey (pronounced "oh-DRAY" in the French manner, and later called Mimi once her grandkids were born) and A. L. (later called Père) were born and raised in the French culture of early 20th century New Orleans. In fact, Mimi couldn't even speak English when she started grade school. English soon became the main language used at home, yet Mimi could still understand French when visiting Donna or Jeff & Sharon in France four, five, six, and seven decades later. Père was never fluent in French, but had some favorite French expressions. Most memorable was his French version of "Let's go!" (namely, "Allons-y!"), which over the years had somehow morphed into "Allez-vous-en!", which means "Go away!" It was never really a problem unless French speakers were around, and they tended to leave soon afterward!

By nature an extrovert with her ever-bright eyes and engaging manner, Mimi connected easily with everyone she interacted with. She was always full of expression when speaking or reading. When learning something new, she would gleefully exclaim, "Now YOU know!", which became a favorite family saying. Mimi's dinner-table recreations of conversations are treasured, especially with her colorful voice impersonations, even if they all tended to sound alike. Her friend Honey Lacour, with her exagerated facial expressions, was the perfect accompaniment to Mimi's stories.

Mimi continued her parents' tradition of weekly dinners for all the grown children and their families. The Thursday night family dinners she established were legendary. The food and company were superb. The neighbors could always tell when it was Thursday by the logjam of cars surrounding 4100 Vincennes Place. If you want a truly excellent New Orleans cookbook — full of recipes and reminiscences inspired by these dinners — check out Thursday Night Cookin': Mimi's Recipes for a Happy Home, put together with input from the family by Wendy (née Baldwin) Vitter as a birthday and Christmas present to Mimi in 1998. It's Jeff's all-time favorite cookbook (and that's saying something!)

Slide show of events in the life of Audrey (aka Mimi) Vitter, originally shown at her funeral reception in June 2006 (click slide show to play, and double-click to enlarge). You can see her obituary here.
Slide show of events in the life of A. L. (aka Père) Vitter Jr., originally shown at his funeral reception in October 2003 (click slide show to play, and double-click to enlarge). You can see his obituary here.

Mimi and Père were both strong students and always stressed the importance of education to their children. Mimi graduated as valedictorian at Ursuline College in mathematics in 1940 and then went on to earn a Master's in Social Work at Tulane University. Père began a Vitter legacy at the University of Notre Dame in 1931, just a few months after famed coach Knute Rockne died in a plane crash. Père graduated from Notre Dame in electrical engineering at 19 years old in 1935, then earned a Master's in physics and taught on the ND engineering faculty for one year.

To date, 11 Vitters have graduated from Notre Dame and another from adjacent St. Mary's College, as represented on the ND flag in the photo below. As a student, Père lived in Alumni Hall, as did son Jeff in the mid-1970, Jeff's son J. Scott Vitter Jr. in the 2000s, and Mark's sons Cameron Artigues Vitter and Peyton Wilke Vitter in the 2010s. In fact, Jeff and Scott had the identical room and suite over the Alumni Hall Chapel during their junior years, 33 years apart. The Chapel, coincidentally, sports a plaque at its entrance recognizing an endowment that Père and Mimi set up for its sustenance.

Flag of ND graduation years 2001 Bookstore Basketball MVP Al Vitter IV initiates son Leo (A. L. Vitter V) to a Notre Dame pregame, 2015. The flag displays the years of the 11 Vitter graduates (two in 2010) at Notre Dame and one Vitter graduate at St. Mary's.

In 1938, Mimi's family (her parents and the five kids) and her maternal aunt Rose ("Tawo") Ferran (1898–1991) and maternal grandmother Marie Léocadie (née Péré dite Cabaillé) Ferran (1869–1944) moved to adjacent homes at 3539 and 3515 Napoleon Avenue in New Orleans, cattycorner to Père's family's home at 3600 Napoleon. (Tawo's brother Dr. John Blaise Ferran (1896–1993) also moved to 3515 Napoleon in the 1960s when he retired from his medical practice in New York City.) Père left Notre Dame that same year of 1938 to move back to Louisiana, where he served as senior petroleum engineer for the Louisiana Department of Conservation, until he was called during the war effort to work in Group 52 at the M.I.T. Radiation Lab and to teach electronics at Harvard.

Mimi and Père got married in June 1943, and they lived in Cambridge, Massachusetts in Bexley Hall on the M.I.T. campus during the remainder of WWII. Mimi dreaded winter, but somehow managed to walk across the Charles River bridge for daily shopping. Their oldest child Al Vitter III was born in February 1945 at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. The photos below show Mimi and Père on the Bexley Hall steps with baby Al III shortly after he was born — and then again 19 years later in 1964!

After the war, Père went on to a long and distinguished career as chief engineer at Standard Oil of California (Chevron), for which he received a patent and several accolades. Each morning at 7am, he would hop on the Express 71 bus two short blocks from his house, which dropped him off right at the California Company Building in the CBD on Elk Place where he worked.

Mimi was a natural organizer, writer, and speaker and became the family historian. Over the years she began keeping track of some genealogical information about her family and got Père interested as well. She put together wonderfully detailed albums of our family. We have but a small fraction of its photos and documents on this website. She used her social and writing talents for many causes around the city, and even helped with son David Vitter's state legislature and U. S. House of Representatives campaigns and his first U. S. Senate campaign. She was also an exemplary gardener, responsible for the amazing rose bushes and greenery that graced 4100 Vincennes Place.

Père excelled in design and carpentry as a hobby, creating much of the furniture and gadgetry in the house, such as the desk in the green bedroom and the intercom system. He started the 78-year-old tradition of annual Vitter Christmas photo cards, and for many years he developed the photos himself via his semi-automated system in the downstairs dark room he built. In the 1960s he designed and installed an underground sprinker system for Mimi's flower beds, later supplemented by Jeff in 1978. Père was always kidded for one project he never got around to finishing: the infamous garage doors, which for about 40 years until Hurricane Katrina remained boxed in the "rough part of the basement" (the name for the unfinished storage area on the first floor) .

Bexley Hall 1945
Mimi, Père, and baby Al III outside their apartment at Bexley Hall, MIT, 1945. (Click photo for Google Maps.)
Bexley Hall 1964
19 years later … and nothing's changed! Bexley Hall remained a very popular residence hall at M.I.T. for several decades more, but eventually had to be torn down, despite protests, in 2015 for structural reasons. (Click photo for Google Maps.)

Père was quite the athlete in his day, starring at quarterback in football and forward in basketball at Holy Cross High School (then called Holy Cross College), where he graduated at 15 years old. In his middle years he took up golf and would tee off at the New Orleans Country Club every Saturday morning at 6:45am with brother-in-law John "Buddie" St. Raymond, often accompanied by sons Mark and/or Jeff, if they could get up that early. Père had a patented slice that he could never quite get rid of (see form in photo below!). In the early 1970s he threw in the towel and gave up golf for tennis when he heard that a slice in tennis was a good thing.

Mark and Mimi on Mardi Gras Day
Mimi gets a surprise visit from Count Mark-ula, Mardi Gras Day 1980.
Père playing golf
Père slicing his drive on the first tee at Gulf Hills Dude Ranch in Ocean Springs, Mississippi, 1967 (click photo for Google Maps).

Mimi and Père leveraged their considerable talents and devoted themselves tirelessly to Catholic projects and causes in New Orleans throughout their lives: St. Rita of Cascia Parish Sodality president, 25-year chair of the annual plant sale, co-chair to write the parish history, Senior Adult Group, Ladies Altar Society, computer analyst for the Volunteer Information Agency, St. Vincent de Paul Society, and the list goes on and on. They were benefactors of their alma maters and many other religious organizations. They were each awarded the Order of St. Louis IX medallion, the highest award conferred onto lay people by the Archdiocese of New Orleans.

Père passed away in fall 2003, after which Mimi remained in the house at 4100 Vincennes Place and lived independently in declining health. Daughter Martha Louise "Tootie" (née Vitter) Jackoniski moved her to their home in Atlanta just before Hurricane Katrina hit on 28 August 2005. Her New Orleans home sustained four feet of flood water as a result of the levee breaks. Mimi's health continued downhill while in Atlanta, and she died six weeks later. Her body was brought back to New Orleans for reburial next to Père on 3 June 2006 and a celebration of her remarkable life.

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