NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - During a mass with upbeat songs and heartfelt comments Monday (June 10), hundreds of mourners said farewell to Leah Lange Chase, New Orleans’ world-renowned chef and community matriarch.
Mrs. Chase died at the age of 96 on June 1.
Her son Edgar Chase, III, remembered his mother as a relentless fighter for all things just.
"From poverty to fame in America, God guided Leah to become an iconic example of justice and compassion for all,” he said.
New Orleans Mayor Latoya Cantrell spoke of the advice she received from Chase after she was elected the city’s first female mayor last year.
“Her civic mindedness inspired the way that I lead, and all of the leaders of this great city," Cantrell said. "I remember being elected as this city’s first female mayor, and sitting at the table with Ms. Chase in her restaurant, and her giving me her list of things that she expected of me. She said ‘Always be a lady.’”
Known as the “Queen of Creole Cuisine," Mrs. Chase served Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, as well as Thurgood Marshall, who became the first African American U.S. Supreme Court Justice.
The restaurant she ran with her late husband Edgar “Dooky” Chase Jr. was a safe haven for civil rights leaders and the movement’s foot soldiers, including young men and women known as the “Freedom Riders," who risked their lives to board segregated buses in the segregated South to push for change.
“Today is Leah’s last freedom ride, she provided us the example to feed all Freedom Riders,” Edgar Chase said of his mother.
Jerome Smith was a Freedom Rider and stood outside the church as Mrs. Chase’s coffin was slowly moved to a hearse as a band played.
“It was always a place of good. She helped to feed us, she helped to encourage us, but much more than that,” Smith said. “I was her newspaper boy when I was 14 years old.”
Chase was remembered for her kindness to people from all socioeconomic backgrounds.
New Orleans Judge Kern Reese said he remembers having birthday parties at Dooky Chase restaurant from childhood to his 60s.
"To lose Mrs. Chase is to lose an icon and a giant of this community, that was an anchor that we all always had,” Reese said.
Liberty Bank CEO and President Alden McDonald also reflected on the advice Chase would offer.
"All of the friends, all of the family, all of the politicians, she was one that said, ‘You come see me in the kitchen,’ and when you came in the kitchen you listened,” McDonald said.
A second-line march followed the funeral and also attracted hundreds of people.