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Close friends, mere acquaintances remember congressman-elect Letlow

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BATON ROUGE - State Fire Marshal Butch Browning fought back tears Wednesday while remembering not just a Congressman-elect, but a dear friend in Luke Letlow, who died Tuesday due to complications from COVID-19.

"It's probably, in more recent times, the saddest thing that I've ever experienced," Browning said.

Browning and Letlow grew close as their paths crossed when the Congressman-elect worked for then-Gov. Bobby Jindal. A passion for public safety also helped cement the bond between the two, as Letlow served as a volunteer firefighter in north Louisiana and his dad a fire chief. Through his time in public service and the private sector, Letlow was someone Browning said could be counted on and who would have served as an ambassador for Louisiana in Congress.

"Luke grew up in a small community, and he knew what rural Louisiana looked like," Browning said. "He knew what rural Louisiana needed."

It's not just Letlow's friends who are feeling the sudden loss. State Rep. Ted James says beyond pleasantries, he and Letlow hadn't interacted much. That was until Letlow's coronavirus diagnosis put him in the hospital less than two weeks ago.

"I wanted to just reach out because I know what it's like sitting in that hospital," James said. "I know the thoughts about my daughter, my family."

Over the weekend, James got Letlow's number to text him well wishes. After sending him a message, he wasn't expecting to hear back right away.

"He was like, 'you don't know how much this means to me,'" James recounted. He said, 'I've been scared at times. Felt like I was feeling better, to feeling like I'm dying.'"

James, who was hospitalized with COVID-19 in March, says the two talked about the mental toll the virus takes, and how Letlow's faith was guiding him.

Just two years younger than the 41-year-old Congressman-elect, James says Letlow's death not only came as a shock but should send a message to everyone about this virus.

"To see that someone, 41, healthy, to see that he didn't survive, it's a wake-up call," James said.

As both strangers and friends come together to mourn Luke Letlow, Browning says though the Congressman-elect never had the chance to be sworn in, he will continue serving the people of Louisiana.

"I know Luke is looking down upon us today," Browning said. "Luke is telling us to seek compromise. Luke is telling us to seek the ability for people to communicate, for people to be able to talk about their concerns and their problems, and to find a solution where we all win."


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