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Monday, May 27, 2024

A poem, candy and song at the late Sen. Breaux’s goodbye

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Sen. Jean Breaux, D-Indianapolis, died last month after a long illness. She was 65.

Hundreds gathered at the Indiana Statehouse on Friday, April 5, to remember the life and legacy of State Sen. Jean Breaux, who will be remembered as a tireless advocate who nevertheless displayed a kind disposition to friends and adversaries alike.

Breaux, an Indianapolis Democrat who represented the east side for nearly two decades, had been in poor health in the months leading up to her death, missing the entirety of the 2024 legislative session after coming down with an illness. She died March 20 from an infection at the age of 65.

Her death shocked many in Indianapolis, with lawmakers from both political parties expressing sadness upon learning of her farewell.

A long line of people formed beside the late senator’s open casket to pay respects to her mother, 87-year-old Billie Breaux, a civil rights activist and former state senator who outlived her only child.

In a small testament to Breaux’s kindness and compassion for others, guests of the ceremony were offered individually wrapped bags of Albanese Gummi Worms with a sticker that read, “A sweet treat from Jean.”

“She loved these worms. They were her favorite,” said Rep. Vanessa Summers, D-Indianapolis, as she handed candy out to lawmakers, lobbyists and friends of the late senator gathered in the second floor rotunda.

To celebrate her devout Christian faith, the event also featured performances from the northside Sanctuary Choir of Witherspoon Presbyterian Church, who sang the gospel songs “Excellent is Your Name” and “I Open My Mouth to the Lord.”

Rep. Robin Shackelford, D-Indianapolis, authored a poem for the occasion, which she called “Jean’s Fire.” She said she did so knowing her larger-than-life friend “would want something extra.”

In it, she remarked at Breaux’s energy and passion, her infectious laughter and her sharp tongue. She recalled their long car rides together — ”cruising down highways like Thelma and Louise” — and her strong, carefree spirit.

Breaux and her parents relocated from West Virginia to Indianapolis in the 1960s. She attended Indianapolis Public Schools and continued her studies at Boston University, Washington University and Indiana Wesleyan University. After working for Martin University and the Indiana Department of Commerce, she decided to run for her mother’s vacant Senate seat in 2006. 

As a legislator, Breaux fought for Black infant and maternal health and led a successful push to expand Medicaid coverage to include doula services. She also advocated for gun control and pushed back against utility companies that wanted to raise the cost of gas and electric bills.

“She was a gentle and quiet spirit, unlike most politicians, and yet she made her voice be heard,” said Rev. Pamela Russell from Mount Carmel Baptist Church, where Breaux regularly spent part of her Sundays. “The legacy that she leaves is that you can remain true to yourself and to your God and still serve your community. There will be little Black girls who can look at her and say, ‘I can do that.’”

A celebration of life will be held Saturday, April 6, from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. at Mount Carmel Baptist Church. She will be buried at Crown Hill Cemetery.

A private Democratic caucus will meet in the coming weeks to decide who will serve out the remainder of Breaux’s term. She was the only Democrat on the ballot after Chunia Graves was kicked off the ballot after being unable to prove she voted in two Indiana Democratic primary elections.

Peter Blanchard covers local government. Reach him at 317-605-4836 or peter.blanchard@mirrorindy.org. Follow him on X @peterlblanchard.

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