St.Charles Avenue’s Activists of the Year
St. Charles Avenue magazine is proud to present its Activists of the Year 2019 – our 24th year!
Read on to learn why we’re honoring Susan Brennan, Daryl G.Byrd, Edgar L. “Dooky” Chase III, Susan O. Hess, Robert “Bob” Merrick and Kim S. Sport. What you’ll see is that though we’re only able to scratch the surface of their activism, their profiles will encourage and embolden you to take a more active role in our community and the nonprofits that make up its framework.
Kim S. Sport
Since retiring from an illustrious law career, Kim S. Sport decided to spend all of her time volunteering her legal and other services to a number of nonprofits.
In 1993, she founded Jefferson Dollars for Scholars and United Way’s Women’s Leadership Council, now known as Women United.
As a three-time cancer survivor, Sport also founded Breastoration, which helps women afford reconstruction procedures following mastectomies.
In addition, she drafted legislation to assure that health insurance providers cover every stage breast reconstruction and assured that no procedure required to restore a mastectomized breast is considered “cosmetic.”
Sport is also an advocate on behalf of domestic violence victims. She served for two years as the chair of the Domestic Violence Prevention Commission and joined the United Against Domestic Violence, a collaboration between the United Way, the New Orleans Family Justice Center and the Louisiana Coalition Against Domestic Violence.
Her dedication to public service and to creating a better community has garnered her numerous awards, including being named as a Top Female Achiever by New Orleans Magazine, winning the Hannah G. Soloman Award from the National Council of Jewish Women and being named New Orleanian of the Year by Gambit.
Robert “Bob” Merrick
CEO, Latter & Blum
Real estate mogul Robert “Bob” Merrick of Latter & Blum actively and tirelessly supports education and causes aimed toward alleviating poverty, noting that the two issues are closely linked.
“The main recipients of my donations are United Way, Red Cross, University of New Orleans, St. Martin’s Episcopal School, Isidore Newman School, Ochsner, Boy Scouts of Southeast Louisiana, Son of a Saint and about 50 others,” he says.
“Education at an early age is the main way to cure this problem (of poverty),” he says. He is also one of three directors of the Ruth U. Fertel Foundation, which supports several dozen activities involved in childhood education.
Merrick says the greatest joy of giving is “knowing that you’re taking an active role in helping the less fortunate in our community and making the community a better place to live and raise your family. I believe giving shouldn’t be called a donation, it should be called an investment in the future of our city.”
As a major force in the local real estate business, Merrick says that he sees firsthand that people want to live and raise their children in safe, sound and healthy communities.
As a father of four and a grandfather to 11, Merrick also enjoys fly-fishing and turkey hunting.
Edgar L. “Dooky” Chase III
Edgar L. “Dooky” Chase III is a lifelong New Orleanian and a household name. Throughout his life he has supported Loyola, Dillard and Xavier universities, serving as a Dean of Business at Dillard and as its Vice President, who helped rebuild the campus post-Katrina.
He has given his expertise and activism to dozens of local organizations, ranging from The Historic New Orleans Collection to banking and finance boards, to the Anti-Defamation League and a number of arts organizations and more.
After serving as Loyola University’s first African American student body president, he says he became active in New Orleans Goals To Grow Committee in the early 1970s. “I was inspired by Monk Simon and later by Ernest Morial and Donald Mintz to get actively involved in the metropolitan New Orleans Community,” he says.
His mother and father – the late, beloved Leah and Dooky – are also among his highest-ranked heroes who helped inspire him to make New Orleans a better place. He remains heavily involved in the family business at Dooky Chase Restaurant, Inc.
Despite his career successes and his lifelong activism, Chase says that one of his greatest accomplishments was in “rearing good sons to be leaders and citizens” with his wife, Alva Darensbourg Chase. “Being a role model of a parent and grandparent is the career that challenges for a lifetime,” he says.
He and his wife also started the Chase Family Foundation to demonstrate to all relatives and people in New Orleans metro area that “Prayer, Work and Doing for Others” is the only way to be successful.
Susan O. Hess
A native New Yorker, Susan O. Hess moved to New Orleans after attending Cornell University and fell in love with the city. Her activism (she describes herself as a “career volunteer”) reflects a deep love of her adopted hometown, and she has served as President or Chair for New Orleans City Park, National Council of Jewish Women of Greater New Orleans, University of New Orleans, the New Orleans Film Commission and the SPCA Board and its foundation to name just a few.
Her activism began with the National Council of Jewish Women. “From the beginning, members mentored me and set me on the path of my life’s work. … They showed me the thrill of accomplishing truly meaningful things.”
Hurricane Katrina was a “defining moment,” she says. She was finishing her presidency at the LA/SPCA. The hurricane wreaked havoc on the animal shelter. The animals had been relocated to Houston, but dealing with 30,000 displaced animals was “a challenge” – to put it lightly. Eventually, the organization acquired more land and built a new, state-of-the-art shelter to replace the lost facility.
Hess was also instrumental in recovery efforts at City Park. Since then, the park has grown from employing 23 people to more than 200. “The long process of recovery was one of the most satisfying accomplishments of my life,” says Hess. “It was done in cooperation with an amazing board of volunteers and a dedicated and talented staff who believed in the future of the park, and have made it the jewel it is today.”
Owner/Developer, Second Line Stages
Susan Brennan loves the abundance of creativity in the city and has chosen to support the arts, along with government organizations and Christian and youth-related programs.
Following Hurricane Katrina, Brennan became involved with Prospect New Orleans. ”Many people were doing great things with charter schools and I met Dan Cameron, who believed in the power of art to heal a city, by putting on an International art exhibits all over the city,” she says. The goal was to help artists, art dealers and museums. … Prospect has helped the careers of many artists and really put New Orleans on the map for contemporary art,” she says, adding that next year Prospect.5 will take place.
Brennan also owns Second Line Stages, the first independent green film studio in the United States right here in New Orleans.
“It has been very rewarding to see the local film community, grow, mature and flourish over the past 10 years,” she says. She also works with Court 13, the production company that created the Oscar-nominated Beasts of the Southern Wild, and the Cool Collective, which seeks to inspire the next generation of filmmakers.
“My proudest moments are seeing the success of some of the smaller arts organizations,” she says.
“If you haven’t been to ‘Luna Fête’ put on by the Arts Council you’re missing a beautiful, fun, creative event in December.”
Brennan says her own mother was an inspiration for becoming involved in community service and activism, and now, as a mother of three herself, she says she’s proud to see her own kids get involved in activism as well.
Daryl G. Byrd
President & CEO, IBERIABANK
Daryl G. Byrd says that throughout his banking career he’s been involved in “all aspects of the community,” ranging from health and human services, to homeownership and education to arts and culture.
“I truly believe all aspects of our communities need to be healthy,” he says.
The South Carolina native first moved to New Orleans in 1992, to run commercial banking and mortgage operations for First National Bank of Commerce, the lead bank for First Commerce Corporation – the largest bank in the state at the time.
He then took a position as President and CEO for IBERIABANK, which brought him to Lafayette and then, when the opportunity presented itself, back to New Orleans.
Children are an inspiration to Byrd.
“As someone who came from a poor upbringing, I have a passion for providing access to resources, mentors and opportunities to kids who wouldn’t otherwise be able to reach beyond their families’ or communities’ limitations. Helping children succeed is personally rewarding and so very important for our future,” he says.
He also says he’s honored to have been involved with a wide variety of organizations over the years, including chambers of commerce, New Orleans Jazz Orchestra, New Orleans Museum of Art, arts councils in multiple cities and local and college school boards.