Aug. 19 (UPI) -- Kathleen Babineaux Blanco, the first female governor of Louisiana, died Sunday, Gov. John Bel Edwards said.
Blanco passed away at the age of 76 surrounded by her husband, Raymond, her children and her family at St. Joseph's Hospice Carpenter House in Lafayette, La., Edwards said in a statement.
In 2017, she announced that she was diagnosed with ocular melanoma and in December of 2018 she said it had metastasized.
"There is no escape," she said during a speech in 2018. "The monster is not far down the road," the Monroe News Star reported.
Edwards said the state owes a "debt of gratitude" to Blanco for all she had done to improve the lives of its citizens.
"Serving as the state's first female governor, Kathleen was a trailblazer and broke many barriers, leading the way for others to follow," Edwards said on Twitter. "She stands among the giants who have helped shape Louisiana's history."
Blanco began her career in public service in 1984 as the first woman elected by Lafayette to the state legislature. Five years later, she became the first woman elected to the Public Service Commission, which she became the first woman to lead in 1993.
In 2004, the mother of six children and grandmother to 13 grandchildren became the first female governor of Louisiana but only held the office one term, deciding not to seek re-election in 2007.
Her governorship was early marred by criticism of being indecisive following the government's response to Hurricane Katrina, which hit the state in 2005 resulting in more than 1,800 dead and over $100 billion in damages.
In deciding not to run for re-election, she said it was in the best interest of the people of Louisiana.
"While so many still suffer, I am choosing to do what I believe is best for my state," she said in March 2007. "I will focus my times and my energy for the next nine months on the people's work, not on politics. After much thought and prayer, I have decided I will not seek re-election as your governor."
Her family said in a statement that while she knew her reputation would be forever linked with Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, which hit the state weeks later, "it was her dying wish that she be remembered for her faith in God, commitment to family and love of Louisiana."
"Our hearts are broken, but we are joyful in knowing that she is rejoicing in her heavenly reunion with Christ," her family said.
Edwards signed an executive order for flags of the United States and the State of Louisiana to be flown at half-staff at all government buildings from Monday through to Saturday.