It will be five years in May,” Donna Myers says.
She is referring to the sudden death in 2009 of her husband, Harold Leland “Max” Myers Jr., an iconic 30-year employee at the Louisiana Workforce Commission.
Myers, 54, died in a collision with a stolen truck that New Orleans police chased into Jefferson Parish. The four occupants included three 16-year-old New Orleans youths, who pleaded guilty and were sentenced in connection with Myers’ death.
Today, nearly five years later, she says, the criminal penalties alone would never satisfy Harold “Max” Myers.
“Harold would have wanted them to have jobs … provided they straighten out,” Donna Myers told me.
In 2010, she attended the sentencing of the driver of the stolen truck.
In an emotional address to Judge Robert Pitre of the 24th Judicial District Court in Metairie, she cited a passage from a previous New Orleans Magazine article about her late husband. “‘A friend lamented that Myers would have wanted to find a job for the person who was driving the stolen truck.’ Truer words were never spoken,” Donna Myers told the court.
Bernardine Dupre, a 47-year employee of the state department of labor and Myers’ former supervisor, says “Max wanted to help people. He wouldn’t want to keep anybody down.”
Myers’ passion for helping disadvantaged job seekers inspired the creation of a labor department service award, which he reluctantly accepted. “Max believed he had a job to do and he had to do it well,” says Dupre, now a manager of a New Orleans job placement office. “He didn’t need awards.” Or motivation.
“He would take his own car and bring people to job interviews,” Dupre recalls, chuckling “He was passionate. He did anything to help you. He would stay at the office late – sometimes ’til 8 p.m. at night – to help employers” put people to work.
He extolled tax credits available to employers who hired military veterans, ex-felons or inner-city youths seeking summer jobs.
He helped job applicants stay afloat, showing them how to apply for food stamps and other public assistance.
“He really cared about people,” Myers says. “He felt people deserved a second chance.”
A native New Orleanian, Harold Myers attended New Orleans Academy. He played football at Nicholls State University then transferred to Louisiana State University, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in 1976. He applied to the Louisiana Department of Labor in October ’77.
There, he found work and love. Donna Terrebonne met Harold Myers briefly at his hiring interview. One year later, in November 1978, they were both employer representatives. She worked at the Job Service office at Houma while he was assigned to a branch at LaPlace.
She recalls they began talking on the phone about office equipment issues. One day, her co-workers hosted a birthday party for her at the Thibodaux Job Service office. Harold appeared.
“We began dating after that,” she recalls.
There was more good news at the labor department that month.
Louisiana’s stubborn unemployment rate fell to 5.9 percent in November 1978, down from 7.3 percent in November ’77.
They got married. They had no children. During 27 years of marriage they did things together that many couples postpone until late in life – or never do at all. They traveled to all 50 states, visiting national parks, museums and major college football games, including the annual Army-Navy classic. They bought T-shirts at each game. They posed for pictures at “welcome” signs at each state.
She retired from the labor department with 33 years of service. He had 31 years. He would keep working while they planned adventurous trips they would soon take together as a retired couple.
“We wanted to travel to Europe. He loved seeing the United States. We had been to Alaska and the Yukon Territories. He wanted to go again,” Donna Meyers says.
The night he died, Harold Myers had one year and four months left before his scheduled retirement from the labor department.
On May 18, 2009, Harold Myers left a New Orleans Zephyrs baseball game that stretched into extra innings. Donna’s car was in the shop that night. Otherwise, she says, she probably would have been with him. He headed towards the Metairie home he shared with his wife and ailing mother.
Around the same time, a New Orleans police officer reportedly obtained a supervisor’s permission to pursue a stolen 2004 Chevrolet Avalanche, then speeding toward Jefferson Parish.
At the intersection of Bonnabel Boulevard and the Interstate-10 Service Road, the stolen truck blew through a red light.
The Avalanche slammed into Myers’ car, dragging it 200 feet into a nearby building. Harold Myers died on the scene.
Ironically, Louisiana’s unemployment rate jumped to 6.7 percent in May 2009; up from 4.0 percent at the same time in ’08.
Donna Myers remarks to sentencing Judge Robert Pitre have lost none of its emotional power since her address to the court four years ago.
“I miss Harold deeply,” she said then. “My life will never be the same. I will never see the deep love my husband showed me, the love that was so evident in his eyes when he looked at me. I will never be able to touch his wonderful loving face or feel his lips on my lips, never be able to hear his unmistakable voice say my name and say how much he loves me …”
She admonished Christopher Williams, the teenage driver of the stolen truck who pleaded guilty to causing her husband’s death and to an unrelated armed robbery May 13, urging him to make the most of his 15-year prison sentence:
“Take advantage and change; don’t ever put another family through this. Make a change for the better.”
Afterward, Donna Myers continued to live in their Metairie home and care for her husband’s mother. Flora Mae Haik Myers died last November 2013; she was 83.
On a recent day, Donna Myers sifted through Harold’s papers.
She reads aloud from a letter of condolences from the owners of an oilfield service company based in Lafayette.
“When we first started our company we had no employees,” she says. “Max was part of our growth.” In four years, the company expanded to 17 locations in two states, aided by Myers guidance”in hiring matters.
After Hurricane Katrina, Myers volunteer and to speak to disadvantaged teens in Kenner about preparing to enter a competitive job market. “Life is unfair, and they’ll have a tougher go at it, but that will only make them tougher,” Myers told The Times-Picayune in a 2006 story. “If they stick with us, they will be shocked at the opportunities that will open up to them.”
Donna says hardship was a familiar theme of Harold’s punch-line advice to friends, family and job seekers: “He’d say things like, ‘Life is unfair; you have to roll with the punches,’ and ‘Nobody ever promised you that life would be fair.’
“He also liked to say – ‘You have to suck all the nectar to life.’
“He lived life to the fullest,” Donna says of her beloved husband, almost five years after his sudden death.
“Who knew he would die young?”