Memorial held for congressman-elect who contracted COVID-19

Louisiana Congressman-elect Luke Letlow, who recently died from COVID-19 complications, was remembered Saturday as a man who loved people and felt called to serve others.

"This is a gentleman who cared about nothing but others," said former Republican U.S. Rep. Ralph Abraham, who hired Letlow as chief of staff during his tenure in Washington and later backed Letlow’s bid for Congress. "He was a true servant’s servant. We never want to forget what he’s done for our state, what he’s done for me and my family."

Letlow, an incoming Republican member of the U.S. House, died Tuesday at 41. Gov. John Bel Edwards ordered flags flown at half-staff on Saturday for Letlow, who is survived by his wife, Julia Letlow, and their children, Jeremiah, 3, and Jacqueline, 1.

More than 200 people gathered at North Monroe Baptist Church for the memorial. Abraham acknowledged the presence of other members of the state’s congressional delegation in attendance, including U.S. Reps. Clay Higgins and Garret Graves.

Abraham noted that Letlow was known for the relationships he forged.

"Luke loved Louisiana. He loved traveling down country roads with potholes, going to Lea’s in Lecompte for pie and milk and talking to the locals," he said.

Louisiana congressman-elect Luke Letlow dead from COVID-19

Abraham urged friends and family to plant a tree in Letlow’s memory.

"Plant a tree that you have to water and nurture and watch grow. And every time you pass that tree, you’ll remember Luke and smile and embrace that warm feeling that comes to your heart as you go about your day. He wants us to be happy, courageous and strong. The way we honor and remember Luke Letlow is to build that type of life."

Letlow, from the small town of Start in Richland Parish, was elected in a December runoff election for the sprawling 5th District U.S. House seat representing central and northeastern regions of the state, including the cities of Monroe and Alexandria. He was to fill the seat being vacated by Abraham.

Jonathan S. Wagner, pastor at Covenant Presbyterian Church, said the number of people present and watching the service via livestream was a "testament to Luke’s impact during his 41 years on this earth."

"The tributes speak to his genuineness, his work ethic, his playful spirit, his love for Louisiana and his love for people. He was a great man and it was a great privilege to have known him," Wagner said.

Wagner said Letlow cared deeply about public service.

"People knew he was not just trying to get his name out there," during his campaign travels, Wagner said. "He was genuinely interested in meeting people and hearing their stories. He wanted to know what shaped them and made them who they were. Those stories shaped him and changed the way he lived. He went into politics to be a public servant in the purest sense. He wanted to help others because he loved them deeply and sincerely and was driven by his faith."

Jeffrey Thomas, a friend of Letlow’s and lead pastor at Start Baptist Church, described Letlow as "God’s special possession."

"The love of God flowed through Luke," Thomas said. "Julia, he loved you and he loved those babies. … Whatever memories you have of him, words spoke by him or whatever service he gave you, he did it out of love. God gave us a special gift in Luke. He made the most of every opportunity and wanted to make sure that you and I had the absolute best."