‘She was just larger than life … absolutely giving.’
For Nancy Robert, Destrehan Plantation was her life for more than 30 years.
On Dec. 20, Robert’s sudden death left behind a legacy of making one of St. Charles Parish’s historic landmarks one of the most vibrant and interactive that drew thousands of people every year.
As its executive director, she generated millions of dollars in donations, grants and revenue. Paula Mire is serving as interim director.
Lily Galland, president of the River Road Historical Society, acknowledged Robert’s dedication to the plantation.
Galland added, “She was a very dedicated employee and implemented along with her staff, heritage educational programs aimed at youth and the community.”
Robert added cisterns and elevators to the main house, a parish tourist information center, an education center, a gift shop, the Herbert Harvey Legacy Room, the Jefferson Room, new maintenance facilities, a picnic pavilion, an outdoor concert venue, an open-hearth kitchen, a garden, a bridal suite and overnight cottages, the Azby Administrative Building, and the gigantic always-bustling Mule Barn. She modernized the tour, opened new rooms of the main house to visitors, added live demonstrations, and expanded access to the site to tens of thousands of Louisiana students of all ages.
Robert’s work with the Louisiana Tourist Commission allowed her to promote Destrehan – and Louisiana – across the United States and Gulf South region.
The annual Fall Arts & Crafts Festival has for decades been one of the largest and most popular festivals of its kind in southeast Louisiana. She also brought the site to acclaim in commercials, television shows, music videos, and in films like Interview with the Vampire and the Oscar-winning 12 Years a Slave.
Robert’s nephew, Scott Nolan, visiting professor at Tulane University in New Orleans, described his aunt “as a paragon of love, compassion and strength.”
“Everyone one of her nieces and nephews were loved like a son or daughter,” Nolan said. “She loved the people she worked with as a second adopted family. She was just larger than life … absolutely giving.”
He recalled the time when Hurricane Katrina came to Louisiana and Robert’s devotion to the plantation.
“She went to the plantation before she went to her own house,” Nolan said. “She said she couldn’t go home without seeing the plantation and seeing if it was still standing. She let herself onto the grounds and walked around fallen tree branches and worked her way all around the property, and checked inside of the house. She made sure that the structure and grounds were relatively unharmed before she even considered returning to her own house.”
The next day she gathered family members who all went with her to clear the grounds of debris.
Nolan added, “What it tells me is how she wanted that place to shine for every person in St. Charles Parish and Louisiana.”
Also describing Robert as the “human character barometer,” Nolan said she had a knack for seeing the “untapped goodness in people” and bringing this goodness out of people.
Robert also loved butterflies, which Nolan found a fitting symbol for his aunt.
“They were in her office and home,” he said. “Her whole life was finding things old and making them new and beautiful. It’s no wonder she chose the butterfly as a symbol throughout her life.”