New Orleans lost another of its unique political characters this past week when Mickey Easterling passed away at her Lakefront home. She was a tireless supporter of many civic, political and cultural causes, and I was honored to call her my friend. In true Mickey fashion, she never divulged her age. Suffice it to say she was one for the ages.
I first met Mickey in 1981, when I was invited to a soiree she hosted at her home for a political candidate. She greeted me at the door, decked in one of her hallmark hats, one that had feathers going in all directions, with an equally memorable long gown. As she puffed a cigarette through a slender silver tube, she introduced herself and said of her candidate, “I’m his campaign’s director of protocol.”
“Well,” I answered, “he could sure use one of those.”
She responded with her wicked, legendary laugh, which always seemed to come from somewhere between a pack of smokes and a bottle of Dom Perignon. We hit it off immediately.
Mickey stood barely five feet tall, but she was larger than life in so many ways. She was fun-loving, purposeful, outspoken, and above all generous. She donated her time and money to many charitable causes, particularly Easter Seals.
She was a quintessential hostess and conversationalist, and she counted among her friends scores of politicians, celebrities, musicians, artists and business people. She loved politics, but she never chose her friends based on their political leanings. To Mickey, the only unforgivable sin was to be boring. Life around her was never dull. She could be discussing international affairs one minute and telling a ribald joke the next.
Her parties were not to be missed, whether they were intimate gatherings of eight or 10 around her dining room table or a house full of notables. She did everything with flair. Retired UNO professor Kenneth Holditch told The New Orleans Advocate that Mickey embodied the term “grand gesture.” I agree. In the realm of grand gestures, Mickey Easterling was queen. Holditch recalled that when Galatoire’s Restaurant quit serving hand-chipped ice (a decision that sparked a rebellion among long-time patrons), she had a block of ice delivered to her table one day from a local icehouse, along with ice picks. Subtlety was not in Mickey’s arsenal when she aimed to make a point.
The late Congressman Gillis Long, a close friend of Mickey’s, once described her as “the Auntie Mame of Louisiana.” She lived up to that nickname, and then some. When her daughter Nanci was queen of the Washington Mardi Gras in the 1980s, Mickey hosted nightly parties in her suite, complete with live music. I had never seen so many cases of Dom Perignon before — nor since. The hotel security gave up trying to keep the noise down.
In true Mickey fashion, she will be sent off with a grand gesture. Her memorial service will be held at the Saenger Theater, the restoration of which was one of her lifelong passions, from 5-7 p.m. Tuesday. She will be there, seated, the center of attention, wearing a hat. It’s going to be one helluva party.
So long, Mickey. And thanks for all the grand gestures.