By KEVIN CHIRI
Slidell news bureau
SLIDELL — Former Slidell Councilman Richard Van Sandt died on Friday, March 9 at his home, after battling lung problems much of his life.
Van Sandt will be well-remembered by city residents for serving 16 years on the City Council from 1982 to 1998, where he showed a great love for the city he lived in.
But more than his public service, Van Sandt will be forever remembered by family, particularly three children he adopted when he and his wife, Betty, were married in 1975.
“When Van and I were married, he didn’t have any children, and I had three from being married before,” Betty said. “When he adopted my children, it was the greatest thing he could have ever done for these kids.”
Jerri Guthrie Reeves, one of his two daughters, summed it up best.
“When my sister was talking to him the other day, she told him ‘thanks for being such a great dad to us.’ He told her that he was the lucky one who should thank us,” she said.
Jerri and her sister, Cindy Guthrie Suarez, were both under the age of 6 when their biological father died, leaving a void that Van Sandt filled.
“We were so young when our dad died,” Jerri said. “I always longed for a dad when I was growing up, and finally when I was a teenager, I got the greatest dad in the world.”
Van Sandt became well known in Slidell for serving 16 years on the City Council, after working over 30 years for Chevron. He was very patriotic, and active in the Palm Lake Homeowners Association, which eventually led to a run for City Council.
“They kept telling him they needed him on the council to represent them, and at first he was reluctant to do it,” Betty said. “But the more he thought about it, he finally took a run and won the first time.”
That was in the 1982 election and Van Sandt ended up becoming a popular city councilman, known for his lack of controversy, but love for making the city better.
“Van was a highly intelligent man who was also the picture of decency. It made him a very successful member of the City Council,” former Slidell Mayor Sam Caruso said, after serving the city when Van Sandt was on the council. “He used his intelligence in a highly beneficial way for the city, and was still making contributions to our city up until his death. His loss for the city is a serious one.”
Caruso said Van Sandt was a top supporter of his in the 1982 campaign to build a new City Hall on Front Street in the former White Kitchen Shopping Center.
“He was one of the few who understood the vision for the city, and was always supportive of the things to make it better, especially when it came to beautification efforts,” he added. “But the other thing I’ll always remember about him was that he knew how to balance work and play. When he was finished with work, he was such a fun guy.”
Health problems troubled Van Sandt for many years, being diagnosed with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) when he was only 35 years of age. He overcame esophageal cancer in 2001 and stomach cancer in 2003 before having heart problems develop a year ago. Five years ago, the lung problems worsened and he was forced to be on oxygen 24 hours a day.
“When you consider all the health problems he had, there was such a will to live,” his son, Scott Van Sandt, said. “He was the definition of toughness.”
Van Sandt was originally from Oklahoma and served in the U.S. Air Force as a flight instructor and pilot before settling in Gulfport after the service to teach flight instruction.
After moving to Slidell 40 years ago, he had a great love for Mardi Gras and visiting the French Quarter, while enjoying the outdoors in many ways, always with his kids and grandkids.
“His life was always about making other people happy,” Scott said.
Betty agreed, noting “every summer we would take two trips in our RV so the grandkids could go to different places. He was always thinking of others, even in the final days recently when he and I talked. He kept telling me he was sorry he was doing this to me, and that it would be hard when he was gone and I was alone. He told me he wanted me to be happy and to not just sit in the chair. He was always making jokes about everything.”
Services are scheduled Thursday, March 15 at First Pentecostal Church, 388 Robert Blvd., in Slidell. Visitation is at noon, with the service at 1 p.m.