LONG ROAD HOME: New Assessor Gauff primed for St. John leadership

Published 12:12 am Wednesday, December 28, 2016

LAPLACE — How do you get from Sesame Street to the St. John the Baptist Parish Assessor’s office?

Lucien Gauff III can tell you.

Gauff, the former St. John Parish councilman, won the October election and will be sworn in as the next assessor Thursday. He replaces the retiring Whitney Joseph Jr., who has held the post since 2005.

Gauff admits it may not have been his dream job, but it fits him.

“This is what I’m supposed to do,” he said. “I know I’m supposed to be here.”

Gauff, who spent the last 23 years working at Dupont and five serving as a councilman, will bring into the office former St. John Parish School Board member Rodney Nicholas, who ran against him last year. Nicholas will serve as Chief Deputy Assessor. Kevin Prudhomme will remain as Office Manager.

“I think he’s going to do a great job,” Nicholas said. “He’s a great leader. He’s a people person. He’s focused on the people. He keeps the public in public service. Both of us want to protect the people of St. John Parish.”

Gauff, 53, certainly knows St. John Parish. He has earned a reputation, of which he is rather proud, of being everywhere.

“I attend every single event,” he said. “That’s where you learn things, hear things, see things.”

Life had taken the LaPlace native far from home for a while, however.

After attempting to walk on the baseball team at LSU (he missed the final cut), Gauff transferred to the University of Louisiana-Lafayette (then USL) with thoughts of being an engineer. His father, Lucien Gauff Jr., had a successful construction company at the time.

“If dad has a successful business, I thought, I’ll go and study business,” Gauff said.

He ended up with a general studies degree and a minor in sociology and psychology. Gauff also was somewhat of an opportunist. One day he answered a call for workers at the CajunDome in Lafayette.

“They asked who had experience in production,” Gauff recalls. “My buddy next to me raised his hand. I said, ‘Man, what experience do you have?’ He said, ‘None. But they don’t know that.’ So I raised my hand too.”

Before long, Gauff was the production manager for the CajunDome, working as a rigger helping incoming productions build their sets and as a runner for everyone from Frankie Beverly to U2.

“I was trying to find myself,” Gauff said.

The gig was fun, he said, and made him very popular among his fraternity brothers who were always looking to pick up a few extra bucks. Gauff would hire them as laborers or drivers. The job did have pitfalls, however.

“I couldn’t do rock and roll,” Gauff said. “Some of those guys would get off the bus and ask, ‘Where are we? What day is it?’ Some of them would ask where they could get drugs. I couldn’t do that.”

Then the touring production of Sesame Street came to town and Gauff impressed them so much he was offered a fulltime job with the crew as assistant electrician and rigger. He spent five years with the company on the road, even moving up to prop manager. His job often was to find Big Bird’s head.

“You can’t even imagine,” he said.

The company was based in Minnesota — specifically, at Prince’s Paisley Park compound.

“You have to understand,” Gauff said. “I loved Prince. I thought I was in heaven. Sheila E., Sheena Easton, they were all there.”

Gauff said he did meet the late Prince on several occasions and regularly played pick up basketball games with Huey Lewis. He admits he also learned just about every dance the Sesame Street characters performed.

Eventually, though, living out of a suitcase got hard. Gauff began to burn out. Then his mama, Shirley, called.

“She said, ‘Dupont is hiring,’” he said.

Soon Gauff found himself back home in LaPlace, working at Dupont, visiting his parents daily and helping an old college friend research some property. He went through the record books, found the property and made an offer to buy it. Then he built a duplex.

“I went through the whole process of buying, bidding, permits, the whole thing,” Gauff said. “That’s how I first got interested in property.”

Soon he became interested in ways to serve his home parish. He began going to council meetings and events. His fellow citizens began asking him to speak for them at the meetings. His first run for council failed, but he won in 2011.

He said he knew this is where he belonged in 1999 when his beloved mother, Shirley, was among the passengers killed when a bus traveling to Mississippi for a casino trip crashed off Interstate 610 in New Orleans.

It was Gauff who spent the day trying to find his mother, searching hospital after hospital and eventually finding her in the morgue. He would later identify his mother by the clothing she was wearing that morning when he last saw her.

He had to notify his brother Errol, then a high school basketball coach in Mississippi and now the head women’s basketball coach at Southeastern Louisiana University; and his sister, Chermain, who lives in Dallas.

“That’s how I know I was supposed to be here,” he said.

As assessor, Gauff said he will be fair and honest. He says he wants St. John to attract new residents as well as new businesses.

“Tax dollars go to running our parish,” he said. “We need tax dollars to support our schools. Tax dollars go to the Sheriff’s Office and the fire department to provide services. The question is, how do we jump start development, which will bring in more taxes?”