Norman Marmillion, who restored Laura Plantation in the 1990s, dies at 76 – NOLA.com


Norman Marmillion, president of the Laura Plantation Company, stands in the French garden adjacent to the plantation’s big house in Vacherie Tuesday November 28, 2006.
The big house, built in 1805, photographed at the Laura Plantation in Vacherie, La., Wednesday, Aug. 5, 2020. The plantation house was painted all white, but later repainted with colors found under the white paint and based on a watercolor painting found of the historic home.
Slave cabins are used to tell the story of multiple enslaved people who lived at the plantation based on years of research at the Laura Plantation in Vacherie, La., Wednesday, Aug. 5, 2020.
The dining room at the Laura Plantation in Vacherie, La., Wednesday, Aug. 5, 2020.
Norman J. Marmillion, General Manager of Laura Plantation, holds a copy of the first page of the handwritten manuscript by Laura Locoul Gore about the history of the plantation that bears her name at the site in Vacherie Thursday, December 20, 2001.
Norman Marmillion, center, leads a tour through Laura Plantation in Vacherie in July 2007.
Norman Marmillion, president of the Laura Plantation Company, stands in the French garden adjacent to the plantation’s big house in Vacherie Tuesday November 28, 2006.
Slave cabins are used to tell the story of multiple enslaved people who lived at the plantation based on years of research at the Laura Plantation in Vacherie, La., Wednesday, Aug. 5, 2020.
The dining room at the Laura Plantation in Vacherie, La., Wednesday, Aug. 5, 2020.
Norman J. Marmillion, General Manager of Laura Plantation, holds a copy of the first page of the handwritten manuscript by Laura Locoul Gore about the history of the plantation that bears her name at the site in Vacherie Thursday, December 20, 2001.
Norman “Johnny” Marmillion Jr., whose passion about anything pertaining to Louisiana culture led him and his wife, Sand Marmillion, to restore Laura Plantation in Vacherie, died Oct. 11 at University Medical Center. He was 76.
Marmillion died of injuries he suffered when a car struck him on Sept. 30 about 8 a.m. as it was heading onto the Interstate 610 eastbound on-ramp near Canal Boulevard, his wife said. He was hit while on his customary morning walk, and was taken to University Medical Center, where he was placed on a ventilator and eventually developed pneumonia and organ failure, his brother Valsin Marmillion said.
The driver, who did not appear to be intoxicated, remained on the scene and was not cited, police said.
Born in New Orleans, Johnny Marmillion spent his youth in Houma before attending St. Joseph Seminary College and Notre Dame Seminary, where he earned a master’s degree in history. During his college years, he did missionary work in Guatemala, his wife said.
After graduating, he moved to Los Angeles, where he worked in video production for four years. When he returned to Louisiana, he worked on the 1984 world’s fair. He also created oil paintings and used puppets to calm children who had to testify in court, Valsin Marmillion said.
The couple bought Laura in 1991. The house, which was built in 1805, was the center of a sugar cane plantation. By the time the Marmillions acquired the house and about a dozen other buildings on the 20-acre site, the plantation had definitely seen better days.
The big house, built in 1805, photographed at the Laura Plantation in Vacherie, La., Wednesday, Aug. 5, 2020. The plantation house was painted all white, but later repainted with colors found under the white paint and based on a watercolor painting found of the historic home.
“It had been deteriorating for years,” said Sand Marmillion, a cultural anthropologist. “People said it was nothing worth saving, but he saw it as a historian and genealogist. He knew the cultural references; he knew the stories that were not being told about south Louisiana and Creole culture. … He felt those stories were being overlooked and the house was symbolic of that world. He thought it had great potential and had a vision of what it could be and set about making it happen.”
The couple created the Laura Plantation Co. and started offering tours two years later.
Laura’s features included an unvarnished, unromanticized depiction of slavery, said Valsin Marmillion. “That drew interest from the African American community because he told their stories.”
In 2004, an electrical fire nearly destroyed the house. After Hurricane Katrina struck a year later, flooding the Marmillions’ Lakeview home, the couple was in the unenviable position of restoring two houses.
Norman Marmillion, center, leads a tour through Laura Plantation in Vacherie in July 2007.
But Johnny Marmillion persevered, his brother said, adding that adversity “did not destroy his positive nature, constantly awakening others to rally around a new day and never allowing pity to have a party in his midst.”
“He was a creative force and came up against obstacles that not many people do,” his brother said, “and he overcame them.”
In addition to his wife, survivors include a daughter, Zoe Françoise Marmillion, of Maui, Hawaii; two brothers, Valsin Marmillion, of Alachua, Florida, and Steven Marmillion of Pensacola, Florida; and two sisters, Mary-Ann Marmillion, of Thibodaux, and Kathy Marmillion, of Houma.
A celebration of his life will be from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. Dec. 10 at Laura Plantation.
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