Former Louisiana Governor Mike Murphy “Mike” Foster died Sunday at the age of 90. It was announced earlier in the week that he had entered hospice care.
Governor John Bel Edwards released the following statement Sunday evening:
“A veteran, a businessman and a sportsman, Gov. Mike Foster was a true Louisianan who served his country, his state and his community with honor throughout his life. As governor, one of his most lasting legacies is in education, especially his support for the creation of the TOPS program, which, more than 20 years later, still helps thousands of Louisiana students attend colleges and universities and achieve their goals. Gov. Foster recognized that there is no greater gift to our state than a bright future for its young people and that not everyone has to travel the same path to achieve a quality education. That’s why he created the Louisiana Community and Technical College System.
“Gov. Foster also worked hard to protect and restore Louisiana’s coastline and moved to dedicate federal funding to this purpose, so that future Louisianans could enjoy the Sportsman’s Paradise he so loved.
“Donna and I are praying for Gov. Foster’s family, and especially his wife Alice, during this difficult time and hope the people of our state will join their prayers to ours. I have ordered that flags in the state be flown at half-staff in honor of his memory.”
Foster entered politics at the age of 57. In 1987, then-Democrat Foster unseated Democratic state Senator Anthony Guarisco Jr. of Morgan City by a large margin. Foster served two terms in the state Senate and then ran for governor.
Foster entered the 1995 gubernatorial race as a minor candidate whom most local political observers discounted. Then in September 1995, Foster announced he would qualify for the race as a Republican. The Republicans had not coalesced on a candidate, and Foster’s announcement that he was switching parties vaulted him from single digits in the polls to serious contention.
Foster edged out two more well-known candidates for a seat in the runoff with then-United States Representative Cleo Fields from Louisiana’s 4th congressional district, a prominent black Democratic politician. Future U.S. Senator Mary Landrieu ran third and missed the general election berth by just 8,983 votes (0.6 percent of the total votes cast). Former Governor Buddy Roemer, seeking a gubernatorial comeback, came in fourth place. Foster’s embrace of the Republican label and his conservative platform undercut Roemer, another Democrat-turned-Republican.
Reminiscent of his grandfather’s inauguration virtually a century earlier, Mike Foster’s inauguration ceremony on January 8, 1996 occurred at the Old State Capitol. Always a man of few words, Foster remarked briefly about the historicity of the occasion and made cordial statements about outgoing four-term Governor Edwin Edwards, who was present.
Foster defeated Democratic candidates in both of his campaigns for governor—Cleo Fields in 1995 and Congressman William Jefferson of Louisiana’s 2nd congressional district in 1999. He defeated Jefferson in a landslide, avoiding a runoff with 64 percent of the vote. His second inauguration took place on January 10, 2000.
Murphy James Foster Jr. was born in Franklin. His father, also named Murphy J. Foster, was an area sugar planter and owner of oil and natural gas lands; his mother, Olive Roberts (1904-1990), was descended from a prominent family in Minden in Webster Parish and Shreveport. Foster’s maternal great-grandfather, Captain Alfred Goodwill (1830-1905), was a native of England and a captain in the Confederate Army. One of the three children of Captain Goodwill and his second wife Ida, was Olive Goodwill (born circa 1875). She married Robert Roberts Jr., a former mayor of both Farmerville in Union Parish and Minden, a state representative for Webster Parish, a state district court judge, and an attorney in private practice in Shreveport. Their daughter, Olive Roberts, subsequently married Murphy James Foster, the son of Governor Murphy J. Foster Sr., and the father of subsequent Governor Mike Foster. One of Foster’s cousins, Jasper Goodwill, was the mayor of Minden from 1955 to 1958.
Foster attended public high school in Franklin, graduated from Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge in 1952 with a bachelor of science in chemistry, and Southern University Law Center with a juris doctorate in 2004, the year he left the governorship. He became an Eagle Scout in the Boy Scouts of America in 1946 and is a recipient of the Distinguished Eagle Scout Award. He was a member of Delta Kappa Epsilon fraternity (Zeta Zeta chapter) and The Friars. He joined the Air Force and served in the Korean War. His paternal grandfather, Murphy J. Foster Sr., was governor of Louisiana from 1892 to 1900 and thereafter as U.S. senator from 1900 to 1913. By the time Mike Foster entered politics, he had already become a wealthy sugar planter and owner of a construction firm. He resided at Oaklawn Manor, an antebellum plantation mansion in Franklin.