Laura James had many enduring nicknames, such as “Lou Lou,” “Lala,” or “Mawmaw Mildew.”
She loved her family, loved listening to Neil McCoy, and absolutely loved traveling to Tennessee, often talking about her plans to retire there someday.
She took pride in her job as dispatcher, something she did for more than two decades in Livingston Parish. Though not technically part of the job, she always watched over the entire crew, acting as a “mother hen” to her colleagues.
But as sweet as she was, she also had a humorous side, sometimes taking photos of herself on friends’ phones when they stepped out of the room. One time while speaking with a co-worker, she claimed to look like country star Miranda Lambert, “but my face is different.” She also had a funny way of mispronouncing words such as Venmo (“veemo”) or melatonin (“meltone”).
Stories about James have flooded social media in the days since her passing from COVID-19 was announced earlier this week.
James died Monday after a month-long battle with the deadly virus at the age of 51, leaving behind a husband, two children, three grandchildren, and many other family members and friends. She is the second deputy from the Livingston Parish Sheriff's Office to die from COVID-19 since August.
But even though she’s gone, Laura James will never be forgotten, her friends say.
“She was more than a co-worker,” said close friend Susan Mills. “She was a sister to me. I will love and miss her forever.”
According to Sheriff Jason Ard, James had been involved in emergency communications for 26 years. For nine of those years, she served with the Livingston Parish Sheriff's Office. The rest of her career was split between Livingston Parish 911 and the Denham Springs Police Department.
Among her other duties, James helped train new LPSO employees and also filled in for the dispatch sergeant in their absence.
“She took a lot of pride in her job,” Mills said. “But, watching over the officers and deputies was more than a job to her — it was truly a calling.”
Though she had “many stories” to share about James, Mills recalled the two working dispatch after Hurricane Isaac in 2012. Mills said they worked 11 straight days — mostly 12-hour shifts — and recalled how everyone was “so tired, very stressed, wanted to see our families.”
Thankfully, James was there to make it a little easier.
“She kept us laughing and helped us get through that difficult time,” Mills said. “I don’t think we would have made it without her.”
Deputy Aime Young called James one of her favorite people to work with, recalling the times they’d grab people’s phones and bombard them with “crazy-faced pictures of us two.”
“There are probably close to 50 of those pictures floating around,” Young said.
Captain Jack Varnado, who is over the LPSO Communications Division, said James was the first dispatcher he met when he was hired and that she greeted him with a hug “and was so excited for me.”
“I’ll never forget her words of encouragement that day and she continued to encourage me each and every day,” Varnado said. “I will miss her smile but will never forget her positive attitude and sense of humor.”
Desiree Brown called James “the sweetest woman ever,” recalling her “momma attitude.”
“I never thought someone that was so sweet could be so full of ‘momma attitude’,” Brown said. “She was so sassy and everyone loved it.”
Brien LeBlanc, who worked “countless shifts” with James, called her “one of the best, both as a dispatcher and a person.” He said she left her mark on law enforcement, emergency communications, and everyone who knew her.
Though LeBlanc didn’t see James often, he said she was “frequently the voice on the other end of the radio” and that he knew she was concerned for his well-being. After particularly tough incidents, LeBlanc said James would “very briefly” speak about what happened but would then ask about his plans for the weekend, how the kids were, and more light-hearted topics.
“She was worried that we would dwell on whatever just happened,” LeBlanc said. “She didn’t just dispatch unit numbers on the radio, but cared for each deputy individually.”
“I know that I, and many other people, will never forget her voice on the radio or seeing her smile behind a headset,” he said.
James left as much of an impact outside of the force, her friends say. She joined the sheriff’s office’s unofficial softball team, partook in spirited paintball competitions, and regularly practiced her faith in Christ.
Co-workers said she loved her husband, children, and grandchildren “more than anything,” talking about them constantly and showing pictures to anyone who passed by.
James was also a fixture of the sheriff’s annual Christmas Crusade, “as she would happily volunteer to help spread smiles across Livingston Parish,” Ard said. Throughout the year, she posted different memes on her Facebook page announcing how many days there were until Christmas.
“She loved Christmas,” her team of dispatchers said.
Colleagues remember James often talking about Tennessee, where she hoped to retire one day with her husband, Richard.
Friend Derrick Bozeman recalled James saying the mountains were her “happy place” and that it seemed she visited there once a month.
“I swear she knows Cade’s Cove better than she knows the local roads here,” Bozeman joked.
Mills said James visited Tennessee two or three times a year and that she would talk about it constantly. Mills always thought that when they both retired, she would have to visit James inside a Tennessee cabin.
“I will never go to [Tennessee] and not think of Laura,” Mills said.