St. John registrar retires after nearly four decades

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, January 2, 2013

By Lori Lyons
Contributing Writer

LAPLACE – As the date of her retirement drew near, Betty Madere didn’t want any big fuss.
But her friends and co-workers at the Percy Hebert Building in LaPlace weren’t about to let her ride off into the sunset quietly. When she showed up for what she thought was the annual parish Christmas party on Dec. 13, Madere was surprised with a cake and a pile of gifts from an appreciative crowd.
“I was very touched,” Madere said.
It was a fitting end to a 38-year career as the St. John the Baptist Parish registrar of voters for Madere, whose last day in office was Dec. 31. And it’s not exactly by choice. After successfully fighting off breast cancer 24 years ago, Madere was rediagnosed in April of last year. This time, it has reached her lungs. She is undergoing chemotherapy treatments, which have left her drained.
“I’m not retiring because I want to,” said Madere, 67. “I’m retiring because of my health. I wasn’t really ready to go.”
Oddly enough, it was another cancer diagnosis which led her to the office. In May 1975, Madere took over from her father-in-law, Davant Madere, as deputy registrar of voters after he was diagnosed with lung cancer. When then-Registrar Melvin Pedeaux retired, Madere was appointed to the position on Jan. 1, 1985.
And she has seen a lot of changes over the years – parish presidents, sheriff’s, governors and her own office space.
“I started with a chair, a desk and a garbage can in the lobby,” Madere said. “After about two years I finally got an office, in with the sewerage office. Then I was in the assessor’s closet; they gave me an office. They have moved me around a lot.”
Madere also saw the office’s salary jump from $21,000 in 1985 to today’s starting salary of $64,400.
“I was the first woman registrar in St. John Parish,” Madere said. “But nobody gave me any trouble because the pay was so low they didn’t care.”
Madere also has marveled at the way voting registration has changed. When she started, voters were registered with pencil and paper forms then put into computers. Now voters can register any number of ways, including online. But that only means extra work for Madere.
“You can register when you get your driver’s license, you can register online,” Madere said. “But we still have to send verification forms. And we have to enter those into the computer. And if they come back, you can’t register. It just means more work for us.”
And nothing, Madere said, can match the hoopla surrounding the bitter 1991 governor’s race between David Duke and Edwin Edwards.
“Oh it was horrible,” Madere said. “We were registering 1,000 people a day. Everyone wanted to vote in that election. It was just unreal.”
Madere said she had hoped to spend her retirement traveling. But with her declining health, she said she probably won’t be able to do much of that.
She does, however, plan to spend lots of time with her four children and 11 grandchildren, especially at her daughter’s newly purchased condominium at Orange Beach.
“I just love the beach,” she said. “I don’t even have to go in the water. I just love being there.”
And when she’s not there, she will be tooling around town in her yellow Corvette convertible – a birthday gift to herself five years ago.
“They even put a picture of it on my cake,” she said. “That was perfect.”