NEW ORLEANS (AP) - Revius Ortique Jr., a former civil rights attorney who became the first black justice on the Louisiana Supreme Court, died Sunday. He was 84.
Ortique died in Baton Rouge from complications with a stroke he suffered June 14, current Justice Kitty Kimbal told The Associated Press. Ortique and his wife moved to Louisiana's capital after their New Orleans home was destroyed in Hurricane Katrina.
"I think he was one of the finest judges I ever had the privilege to work with,'" said Kimball, who took her seat on the court in 1992, one day before Ortique did. "I never knew anyone who did not like him. He exemplified the word gentleman."
Ortique had to step down from the court in June 1994 when he turned 70, the state's mandatory judicial retirement age.
As a civil rights attorney in the 1950s and '60s, he led efforts in the state to integrate labor unions and represented black workers in lawsuits seeking pay equal to their white counterparts.
In 1958, Ortique was elected to the first of five terms as president of the Urban League of Greater New Orleans. A year later, he was elected president of the National Bar Association, an association of black lawyers and judges. He served three terms as president of the Community Relations Council, a biracial group in New Orleans.
"I think many people do not know what his role was early in the civil rights movement," said Sybil Morial, widow of New Orleans' first black mayor Ernest "Dutch" Morial, and mother of former Mayor Marc Morial.
"There were many factions then working for various things — boycotts for jobs, use of restrooms, lunch counters," she said. "He was one of the negotiators for all the groups. He had credibility with both the white and black communities."
The Times-Picayune reported Sunday that in the mid-1960s, when Ortique led the National Bar Association, he lobbied President Lyndon Johnson to appoint black judges to the federal bench. Johnson later nominated Thurgood Marshall, who became the first black justice on the U.S. Supreme Court.
"Justice Ortique was an inspiration to all Louisiana lawyers and judges," said Criminal Court Judge Arthur Hunter. "Not just African-American lawyers and judges, but all lawyers and judges."
He was appointed by five U.S. presidents to various commissions and boards, including a stint under President Clinton as an alternate U.S. delegate to the United Nations.
He was chairman for eight years of the New Orleans Aviation Board after being appointed by Mayor Marc Morial.
"He was a giant, a pioneer," said Morial, now president and chief executive officer of the National Urban League. "Everywhere he served — as a lawyer, a judge, a Supreme Court justice — he did it with distinction."
Ortique was born in New Orleans and served four years as an Army officer during World War II. He earned a bachelor's degree from Dillard University, a master's degree from Indiana University and a law degree from Southern University in 1956.
In 1978, the Louisiana Supreme Court appointed Ortique to a seat on the Civil District bench to complete the term of Adrian Duplantier, who was appointed to a federal district judgeship.
In 1979, he was elected to fill out the term of Oliver Carriere, who was retiring. He was re-elected, without opposition, in 1984, and he was elected chief judge two years later.
He is survived by his wife, Miriam Marie Victorianne Ortique, a daughter, Rhesa Marie McDonald; and three grandchildren. Funeral arrangements were pending.