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Remembering Mrs. Lillian Jacobs Bourdier

Carola Lillie Hartley

Talking about Opelousas, one can’t help but hear the name Miss Lillian mentioned from time to time.  For those of us who lived during the time she was with us, we knew how much Miss Lillian loved our town and how far she was willing to go to make it better. She knew just about everyone in Opelousas, and she knew just about everything that was happening in our city. And she wrote about those people and about those events and activities. Miss Lillian knew Opelousas.  In fact, for over forty years, she WAS Opelousas.

Who was Miss Lillian?

Born into a well-established Opelousas Jewish family on September 29, 1907, Lillian was the only child of Aaron Jacobs and Hannah Hirschman. Her father’s family was well known in Opelousas and throughout St. Landry Parish. The Jacobs family had businesses in the town going back to the 1860s when her grandfather Solomon Jacobs (1838-1917), born in Germany, migrated to Louisiana and eventually to Opelousas. Soon after his arrival, he opened Jacobs’s Store; a well-known mercantile business located at Jacobs’ Corner on the northeast section of Main and Bellevue streets in the downtown. In this store one could find staples and fancy dry goods as well as hardware, groceries, tobacco, medicines, etc. In other words, just about anything.

The business became very prosperous over the years and as Solomon grew older, his three sons Jonas, Aaron and Adolph took over running the store. Eventually the old store closed, and the sons went out on their own, starting several different businesses in the town.  

After working with the local opera house and the newspaper, Aaron started his own business in downtown, Jacobs News Depot, which he operated for many years. He was also a photographer and is responsible for the large collection of picture post cards of old Opelousas that is cherished today. Aaron was very involved in the community in so many ways. He was a great promoter of his business and of the town, writing great press releases that were picked up by many state and national publications. And at one time he managed the chamber of commerce. He loved Opelousas and was proud to let everyone know it. He passed alone this love of his community to his daughter.

Lillian was “the apple of her father’s eye,” as they say. She grew up in old Opelousas, living the storybook life of those times. She was educated in the town and later attended Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, majoring in journalism. At that time there were few women journalist in the state, and none in Opelousas.  She became the first. And what a journalist she was.

After graduation from LSU, Lillian returned to Opelousas and on December 9, 1927, married James Merrick Bourdier in the town. In 1929 they welcomed their only child James Aaron Bourdier into the family.

Miss Lillian began her active journalism career as soon as she completed her studies at LSU.  She became the correspondent in St. Landry Parish for the New Orleans Times-Picayune, the old New Orleans States, the Baton Rouge Morning Advocate and State-Times, the Beaumont Enterprise, and the Lafayette Daily Advertiser. In 1940 she was named news editor and woman’s editor for the Clarion-News, Opelousas weekly newspaper, and the semi-weekly Opelousas Herald – the two newspapers being published jointly as a thrice weekly. While she worked for the Opelousas papers, she continued to serve as correspondent for the metropolitan newspapers. When the two Opelousas weekly papers closed, Lillian joined the staff of the Daily World in 1950. That’s when she became known as “Mrs. Boo,” a nickname fondly given to her by her co-workers

When Lillian began working for the Daily World, her husband James also worked there as the paper’s photographer.  Soon after she was employed, tragedy struck the paper and the family on May 2, 1951, when her beloved James died at the young age of 47. Following his death, Lillian continued her work with the paper, where she remained for the rest of her life.

Never learning to drive, Mrs. Lillian would walk the town getting the “scoops” to produce the best news stories. For the Daily World she covered just about everything and everyone in Opelousas, where she was dearly loved and respected.  She covered the courthouse, the school board, all women’s news and society, city news, city clubs and organizations and more. She served as Women’s Editor for the paper for several years and was eventually promoted to City Editor, the first woman to hold that position in Opelousas. At the same time, she remained a correspondent to three large daily state newspapers. 

Mrs. Lillian didn’t just work for the paper she worked for Opelousas. She was very involved in several community organizations including the Opelousas Woman’s Club, the Louisiana Yambilee Association and others. She was instrumental in getting the United Givers Fund organized in Opelousas and was active in the Inter-Club Council when the organization sponsored the building of Opelousas General Hospital. And the list of her involvement could go on and on and on…

Over the years Mrs. Lillian won numerous awards for her journalistic work as well as her work for the community. Among these were her two favorites, the Citizen of the Year Award she received from the Opelousas Chamber of Commerce in 1970 and the Theta Sigma Phi Community Service Award she received in 1959 from Theta Sigma Phi National Honorary Fraternity for women in Journalism.

In March of 1973, Mrs. Lillian suffered a severe heart attack and spent several weeks in the hospital. When news of her illness spread through the community, so many flowers and well wishes were sent to her that it almost interfered with work at the hospital. Her doctors had to make an appeal that those please stop, as she needed her rest.  She recovered and was sent home only to have another attack on May 15th. This one took her life.  She died in the late evening hours of that day at Opelousas General Hospital.

I remember so well the day Mrs. Boo died. It was such a sad day for Opelousas. It seemed a huge part of the community was gone. And it was. Through all the years she was with us, the town had grown, it had prospered, and yes it had its ups and downs.  But it also had Miss Lillian. She kept things going and was always there to keep us informed. She let us know what was happening – all the good, the bad, and yes, even the ugly.  Even so, she loved her town. She was always smiling, always positive, and never seeing the glass as empty, but always at least half full. She was just that kind of a person.

Long before Woman’s Lib came to Opelousas, Lillian Bourdier was a well-informed and respected member of a predominately male dominated profession. Yet she remained a lovely lady, charming, gracious and dignified. She will be remembered for her work and her dedication to the town she taught us all to love.