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|UPDATED: Fletcher succumbs to cancer|
Lee Fletcher, a man who was responsible for electing two physicians to the U.S. House of Representatives from Louisiana, died Wednesday night at St. Francis Medical Center in Monroe.
Under the direction of Mulhearn Funeral Home in Monroe, services for Fletcher will be held at 2 p.m. Monday at First Church of God in Oak Grove. Burial will be at Oak Grove Cemetary. Visitation will be held from 4 p.m.-7 p.m. Sunday at Mulhearn Funeral Home on U.S. Highway 165 in Monroe. Visitation also will be held from noon until time of services on Monday at First Church of God in Oak Grove.
Diagnosed with cancer in late February, Fletcher, 43, spent the past six-plus months undergoing treatment at M.D. Anderson Medical Center in Houston as well as at medical facilities in Ruston and Monroe, including St. Francis.
When he was diagnosed with cancer, Fletcher, a resident of Monroe, was serving as chief of staff for 4th District Congressman Dr. John Fleming, a Republican from Minden. Fleming named Fletcher his chief of staff not long after Fletcher, a staunch Republican like Fleming, orchestrated Fleming's election to the U.S. House of Representatives in the fall of 2008.
"Last night, I lost a friend and trusted advisor," Fleming said. "Lee Fletcher was one of our state's great political minds, which he proved time and time again. He worked with men and women he believed would make a difference in this world and it was because of him that I have the privilege of serving in the United States House of Representatives."
"Lee was never afraid of a tough fight, including the brave battle he waged against cancer these past few months," Fleming said. "He still had his characteristic tenacity and grit until the very end and I will miss him very much."
"My prayers are with his family," Fleming added.
When Fleming tapped Fletcher to manage his congressional campaign last year, Fletcher was operating his advertising/public relations firm, The Fletcher Group, in Monroe. Fletcher also owned a Web site development company, Web Completors. He operated his own radio station, Fox 92.7, too, which aired Fletcher's popular morning talk show program, Town Hall with Lee Fletcher.
Founded in 2003, The Fletcher Group focused strictly on developing advertising campaigns for private businesses in its early years of operation. Fletcher's love for politics, though, as well as his natural instincts in working in the political arena, prompted him to begin handling political campaigns as a campaign/media consultant beginning in earnest in 2006.
In 2007, Fletcher served as a consultant for a host of successful legislative campaigns in Louisiana, including Rep. Bubba Chaney's, Sen. Neil Riser's and Sen. Mike Walsworth's. Fletcher also was Gov. Bobby Jindal's primary consultant for northeastern Louisiana in the gubernatorial campaign that year.
"I would not be a state senator today had it not been for Lee Fletcher," Walsworth said. "More important than that, though, Lee Fletcher was a dear friend of mine."
"I will miss him terribly," Walsworth added.
Though Fletcher was a self-described "Ronald Reagan Republican," he reached across party lines to help a Democrat if he felt the Democrat was the best candidate in a race.
Monroe Mayor Jamie Mayo was one of those Democrats who turned to Fletcher for help when Mayo sought re-election last year. Mayo confided in a friend that hiring Fletcher made the difference between winning and losing.
James Davison, a successful businessman from Ruston, first met Fletcher when Fletcher was a student at La. Tech in the 1980s. On more than one occasion, Fletcher described Davison as "the finest man I know."
"There is a lesson about Lee Fletcher's life for all of us to learn from," Davison said. "He was a fine young man who overcame a great deal, strived to succeed, and he did succeed."
"Lee got knocked down from time to time, but he always picked himself up and plowed ahead," Davison said. "He never gave up."
"I was very fond of him, and he was a dear friend who I will miss a great deal," he added.
One of those instances in which Fletcher "got knocked down" involved his own campaign for public office.
In 2002, Fletcher outdistanced two prominent Republicans – former Congressman Clyde Holloway and then-state Sen. Robert Barham – to earn a spot in the run-off election in the 5th District congressional race. Fletcher met then-state Rep. Rodney Alexander, a Democrat at the time, in the December 2002 general election.
Though Fletcher campaigned tirelessly for more than a year for the 5th District seat, he lost the race by less than 1,000 votes. Sensing the conservative nature of the 5th District while the prospect of Fletcher making another run for the post was highly probable, Alexander switched to the Republican Party in 2004. In time, Alexander hired Fletcher to handle some campaign-related matters.
"My thoughts and prayers are with the Fletcher family during this difficult time," Alexander said.
"Lee had one of the best political minds and a passion for government on every level," he said. "Although he loved politics, he treasured his north Louisiana roots more."
"In 2002, Lee and I ran a tough and intense congressional race against one another," Alexander continued. "After the race, Lee and I found we had more common ground than differences, and we worked together to promote Louisiana. When Lee was named Dr. Fleming's chief of staff, we would often talk and visit in Washington, D.C. Lee and I built a friendship marked by good humor, hard work and a desire to build a stronger Louisiana.
"The legacy Lee leaves behind is one of dedication to the work he loved and compassion to make our state better. It is hard to imagine Louisiana and Washington without him. I feel blessed to have known Lee."
Fletcher's familiarity with the 5th Congressional District dated to 1996, for it was in 1996 that Fletcher, 30 years old at the time, managed Dr. John Cooksey's campaign for the post.
Making his first campaign for elective office, Cooksey easily outpolled a host of candidates in the primary election that year before meeting then-state Rep. Francis Thompson in the general election. Cooksey, a Republican, defeated Thompson, a veteran Democratic state lawmaker, with 56 percent of the vote.
It was during that 1996 congressional campaign that Fletcher became associated with Roy Fletcher, though they were not related.
Groomed and trained by Gus Weil, a famous Louisiana political operative, Roy Fletcher served as Cooksey's media consultant in the '96 campaign. Roy Fletcher also served as Lee Fletcher's media consultant in 2002 5th District congressional race.
"Lee's entire life was about courage, work and determination," Roy Fletcher said. "His talent was great, but his friendship was even greater."
"Lee truly was one of a kind," Roy Fletcher added.
When Cooksey took his seat in the U.S. House in January 1997, Lee Fletcher joined him as his chief of staff. Fletcher maintained that position until resigning to piece together his own race for Congress in 2002, which was made possible, in part, because Cooksey vowed to serve no more than three terms in the House.
"It's ironic that Lee elected two physicians to Congress, but the medical community couldn't cure his sarcoma," Cooksey said.
"Lee was able to overcome many obstacles in life, but he did it because of his character, his intelligence and his determination to make life better for himself and the people around," Cooksey continued. "I know my life was made better for having known Lee Fletcher. I suspect many people could and would say the same."
Born in Monroe at E.A. Conway Hospital on April 29, 1966, Fletcher was raised in Oak Grove by his grandparents, the late Dayton Brown and his wife Pat Brown, who was with Fletcher when he died around 9 p.m. Wednesday.
Fletcher often spoke glowingly of his grandparents. He credited them, too, for raising him in a manner that allowed him to succeed in life.
A 1984 graduate of Oak Grove High School, Fletcher attended La. Tech University where he earned a degree in agriculture education in 1989. While at La. Tech, which Fletcher loved dearly, he was elected Student Government Association president. He held that post in 1988. Fletcher also held a masters in business administration, which he earned at LSU in 2000.
Ironically, when Fletcher died the television set in his hospital room at St. Francis was tuned to the La. Tech-Hawaii football game, which was televised nationally by ESPN 2. At the time of Fletcher's death, La. Tech was leading, 24-6.
It was at La. Tech when Fletcher was a student and a member of Sigma Nu fraternity that he met Congressman Jim McCrery. Obviously impressed with Fletcher, McCrery recommended him for a position in President George H.W. Bush's administration.
Immediately following his graduation from La. Tech in August 1989, Fletcher went to work in the Bush administration at the U.S. Department of Agriculture. When Bush lost his re-election campaign to then-Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton in 1992, Fletcher lost his job in the administration and went to work for McCrery.
McCrery eventually assigned Fletcher to serve as district director for McCrery's congressional office in Monroe. In the early 1990s, much of northeastern Louisiana, including Monroe, was part of the 4th District of Louisiana in the U.S. House of Representatives.
It was while he lived in Monroe working for McCrery that Fletcher and Cooksey became friends and made plans to get involved in politics in their own right.
Check back for updates to this report.