‘A servant at heart’: Family, community remember health advocate Jeannette Alcon

A woman wearing a bright orange sweater stands on a beach just before sunset.
Jeanett Alcon, former executive director of the Lafayette Community Health Care Clinic, died Saturday, June 30, 2024. Photo courtesy of Rachel Campos.

Hamburger steak and Atomic Q’s, plus an ice water and a coffee, no sugar. That was Jeanette Alcon’s order at the family’s go-to spot, Hub City Diner, where her two children, Jonny and Rachel Campos sat Wednesday to remember their mother, days after she died at Hospice of Acadiana, close to the home where she raised her children after the family moved to Lafayette from Baton Rouge in 1988.

Alcon was a highly devoted mother, according to her children, but most in the Lafayette community likely knew her as the long-time executive director of the Lafayette Community Health Care Clinic, which delivered free health care to the city’s working poor from 1991 to 2016.

“My mom was a servant at heart from the jump,” Rachel Campos said. Born in Cheyenne, Wyoming, but claiming New Mexico as her home state after many years of moving around as the child of a military family, Alcon joined a convent at 13. “She just felt called,” Campos said.

The convent, however, was not for the outspoken and social justice-minded Alcon, who at 21 years old, was kicked out for calling out a hospital policy that discriminated against Black workers, according to Campos.

However, her outspoken nature is what endeared her to many. “She was not one to hold her tongue — but she would do it in a way that was humorous and thought-provoking,” said Shawn Wilson, former transportation secretary and candidate for governor of Louisiana. “She was a friend and an inspiration.”

After caring for her dying mother in her mid-20s, Alcon made the move to Louisiana, first to New Orleans, then Baton Rouge, and finally to Lafayette. Once she landed in Acadiana, she became a prolific fundraiser and a force advocating for the marginalized, something that had always been a passion of hers — and got her into trouble more than once in the convent.

Charismatic, joyful, hard-headed, too — “she stood out,” Campos remembers her mother’s spirit.

One thing that stood out about her was her infectious laugh, former classmates of Alcon’s in the Leadership Lafayette program remembered. “Jeanette was a treasure,” said Rose Hoffman Cormier, who served as the Health Information Center coordinator for the Women’s Foundation at the time Alcon was leading the community clinic. “She’d always make you smile or laugh.”

Another classmate, Visit Lafayette President and CEO Ben Berthelot, reminisced about a class trip to Alexandria on Facebook, remembering an episode when another patron at the hotel bar kept coming back to Alcon asking her to dance, often enough for her classmates to give him the nickname Boomerang. She obliged every time.

“She was a person that was full of joy,” Berthelot said. “That was reflected in the great work that she did with the community clinic.”

Of Pueblo descent, Alcon worked with Ernest Sickey, longtime chairman of the Coushatta tribe, in her role as founding executive director of the Inter-Tribal Council of Louisiana before making the move from Baton Rouge to Lafayette.

She became the director of the fledgling free clinic in Freetown in 1994.

The clinic, staffed by volunteer nurses, doctors, dentists and pharmacists, offered a full spectrum of health services to those who worked but could not afford insurance. In 2022, Ochsner took over the building, which has a long history of serving as a health center, and turned it into the Lafayette General Community Health Center, which focuses on low-income patients.

“She really bled the mission of the clinic everywhere,” Campos said, adding that this included bringing her advocacy to Hub City Diner, which donated food for Alcon’s efforts to feed those in need.

After her departure from the clinic in 2013, Alcon stepped into what may have been one of her most important roles: Nana. While still working part-time and later starting a pet-sitting business, Alcon devoted herself to being the grandmother of Hanna, Campos’ daughter and Alcon’s first grandchild.

“They had a beautiful thing,” Campos said.

Since her unexpected death from a fall that resulted in a prolonged loss of oxygen to her brain, the family and community have come together to mourn and support the surviving family, especially her children, in sorting their late mother’s affairs. The family has set up a GoFundMe page to help with memorial expenses and to set up a fund in her memory. Her ashes will be spread near her family’s ancestral land in northern New Mexico.

“Everything divinely has worked out,” Campos said. “The community has wrapped their arms around us.”

When Campos and her brother took their mother’s siblings, in town to help Alcon’s kids deal with the aftermath of her death, to Hub City Diner the day after her death, they found that there was no bill to pay at the end of their visit. Somebody, in the spirit of their mother’s generosity and service to the community, had already picked up the tab.