If Roxy Lavizzo came home and found a gift on her porch, she knew that it probably came from her dearest friend, Robert H. Tucker, Jr.

Tucker, who was well-known in the city as a civil-rights leader, businessman and political adviser, died on March 1 at the age of 82. Services will be held at noon Saturday (March 11) at Greater St Stephen Church.

About a year ago, Lavizzo — also known as Roxy Lavizzo Wright — and her daughter drove up to find a stunning bougainvillea plant with yellow flowers. “That’s probably from Bob,” said her daughter, who watched Tucker play Porch Santa for her entire life.

If it was Tuesday or Saturday, the bag on her porch was filled with fresh produce that Tucker had picked up from a local market. On other days it might be books he had purchased — about a topic that interested her, or about wellness, spirituality or the environment, which were his passions. 

Probably half the books on her shelves came from Tucker, including the book she’s reading now, “Intuitive Wellness.” Her last text message from him, on the day he died, was about the health benefits of Epsom salts.

For him, wellness went hand-in-hand with environmentalism. Long before the city introduced curbside recycling, Tucker had talked about the need to reuse and recycle. Part of his stewardship may have stemmed from the time he had spent in the early 1960s as a U.S. Park Ranger in Yosemite National Park, as one of the first Black rangers. He believed in saving the planet and loathed litter. “He’d really go cuckoo if he saw someone throw paper out of a car window,” Lavizzo said.

Known for versatility

For the past week, Lavizzo’s mind keeps darting to memories of her friend. “Hardly a minute goes by where my thoughts are not interrupted,” said Lavizzo, 86.

The two have been the closest of friends for more than 50 years. They’re also cousins, though she grew up in the Lower 9th Ward and he lived in Central City, so they didn’t get to know each other until they were older.

Still, the two of them have traded all the stories from their high school days, when she was at Joseph S. Clark and he was at Walter L. Cohen, where he played quarterback and was an academic standout. The 1959 Cohen yearbook that’s kept in the collection at the Amistad Research Center, shows that, as a senior, Tucker was voted “Most Versatile.”

To Lavizzo, it’s the perfect honorific. “Because he was intellectual, athletic and an all-around good guy, always wanting to help somebody,” she said.

For decades, she spent countless evening hours and weekend days at his house with him and his wife and children. During the 1970s, they frequently grabbed lunch together. She worked for the state of Louisiana health department across Perdido Street from City Hall. He was the first Black executive assistant hired by Mayor Moon Landrieu, who integrated the executive suite in city government.

In those early days, she said, he would sometimes leave a room and return to find his chair labeled with a sign that read, “This seat is reserved for Moon’s Coon.” 

Again, Tucker proved versatile. He helped to negotiate with the Black Panthers during a standoff in the Desire housing development. And whenever something came up in the city’s Black communities, he would reach out to the people involved and handle it. 

“He’d handle it Bob Tucker’s way, usually behind the scenes,” Lavizzo said. “Ask anyone who knew him: he did this work because he loved people and believed in human rights, not because he wanted fame or glory.”

This week, she’s been remembering his love of the outdoors and the way he could imitate bird calls with perfect pitch. How he always seemed to be simultaneously reading three books. For solace, she’s been watching her bougainvillea plant, which had turned brown after a December cold snap but sprouted a single green leaf the day before Tucker died. 

“Now, it’s full of leaves,” said Lavizzo, who considers it a sign that Tucker’s spirit is near — especially when she walks onto her front porch.

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Katy Reckdahl joins Verite after working as a staff reporter for The Times-Picayune and the alt-weekly Gambit before spending a decade as a freelancer, writing frequently for the New Orleans Advocate |...