New Orleans, Louisiana 2020-10-18 11:40:00 –
Noel Hamat, best known for 16 years on the East Baton Rouge Parish Board of Education, died Friday afternoon at the age of 62 after a brief bout of a brain tumor.
While Hamat was on the board, the school district passed a school construction tax for the first time in 29 years and finally settled a 51-year division of Baton Rouge.
His wife, Terry, said Noel had a brain surgery on July 20 to remove the tumor. It turned out to be glioblastoma IV with no cure. He could have been able to extend his life by several months with chemotherapy and radiation, but Noel didn’t have it.
“He thought it was ridiculous and said,’Go to the beach in Florida,'” his wife recalled.
Immediately after graduating from high school, he joined the United States Army from Baton Rouge and served abroad. In April 1979, Noel met Terry at a Swiss youth hostel. Barely a year later, they got married.
“It was love at first sight,” she said. “Noel was very unique and kind, and there was a lot of common interest.”
In 1984, the couple returned from abroad and moved to Baton Rouge. They never left.
Hammatt first ran for the Board of Education in 1994 as part of an initiative called Community Action for Public Education. CAPE took advantage of public dissatisfaction with the school system and replaced nine of the twelve members of the board.
Hamat had multiple windows to public education. After spending two years as a social studies teacher at Kenilworth Middle School, he became an instructor at LSU, where he taught various educational courses for almost 20 years. Terry also taught French in a school system, and his two children, Jenny and Jim, attended public school.
“Noel saw a lot of problems in public education, and he wanted to be in a position to influence what he was actually doing,” Terry said.
Republican Hamat, who became a Democrat in his later years, noticed that he was increasingly in conflict with the more harmonious education reformer when he joined the board. They were particularly divided into charter schools and what Hamat considered to have a negative financial and educational impact on other public schools.
“Telling the truth to power, he did it, and he lost a lot because of it,” Terry said.
The school board was a continuous flash point of controversy. He voted with other boards in 2009 to create an enemy in his district to close his alma mater, Lee Hai, who was on the verge of taking over the country. It then resumed, but caused political damage.
In 2010, Hamat lost his fifth bid by a 3: 1 margin and lost to Lee High School graduate Barbara Freiberg. It was the “trampling” he admitted at the time. “I have a very complex message that offends many people.”
After leaving the board, Hamat became an independent educational researcher and continued to speak on various issues for several years. Through the Kiwanis Club, he raised money for elementary school students to take home and buy books to start their home library. But lately, his poor health has left him out of the public eye.
One of the things he has never quit, and what he is well known for, is the work of wood. It was a skill he grew up and learned.
“He’s been hanging out on trees since he was two,” Terry said.
He continued the work almost to the end. “Three weeks ago, he killed the last four trees,” Terry said.
Terry said he praised her husband even when she died. “You can experience the end of life and do it your own way. That’s what he did.”