The incoming representative for Louisiana’s 5th Congressional District, 41, was first admitted to a hospital on Dec. 19 and later transferred to LSU Health Shreveport in critical condition and “apparently suffered a cardiac event” on Tuesday that led to his death, Shreveport Dr. G.E. Ghali told NOLA.com.
Letlow’s passing has inspired his friends, family and acquaintances to share sympathetic messages and fond memories of the young father of two on social media, highlighting Letlow’s life and accomplishments before he was elected to serve his home state in Washington, D.C.
Letlow is survived by his wife Julia and two children, 3-year-old Jeremiah and 11-month-old Jacqueline.
The “ninth-generation Louisianian,” according to his LinkedIn profile, was the youngest son of Dianne and Johnny Letlow and grandson to the late Mr. and Mrs. John Letlow of Start and Mr. and Mrs. Richard Taylor of Start.
Letlow and his wife both attended Ouachita Christian High School in Monroe, La. Letlow went on to Louisiana Tech University, where he served as president of College Republicans and interned for former Louisiana state Rep. John Cooksey and later became his driver, according to the Monroe News-Star.
Letlow graduated from Louisiana Tech with a bachelor of science degree in computer information systems.
His wife, whose maiden name is Barnhill, graduated from the University of Louisiana at Monroe with a bachelor’s and master’s in speech communication, before earning a Ph.D. in communication from the University of South Florida.
Letlow attended Covenant Presbyterian Church in Monroe.
Letlow’s first notable job was serving as district director for Louisiana Republican Rep. Bobby Jindal. He later went on to be Jindal’s director of intergovernmental affairs. Letlow connected Jindal with rural voters and brought him to Protestant churches, volunteer fire stations and convenience stores in northern and central Louisiana, according to the News-Star.
“In his first campaign, Bobby had trouble connecting with rural voters; we changed that in 2007,” Letlow told the News-Star in a Dec. 7 interview. “Those were exciting times. Bobby was young and brilliant and energetic. It was an electric atmosphere.”
Letlow switched his focus after Jindal started expressing more interest in national politics and unsuccessfully ran for president in 2015. He then worked as a lobbyist for QEP Energy – which operates oil and gas fields – in Denver, where he and his wife lived until Rep. Ralph Abraham, R-La., convinced Letlow to return to Louisiana and help his campaign.
Abraham won reelection twice but promised to serve only three terms so that Letlow could follow and join the 117th Congress in 2021, the News-Star reported.
“When Ralph decided not to run, I knew my experience could be valuable and important to represent the 5th District from elective service rather than behind the scenes as I had for my entire career,” Letlow told the outlet.
Letlow’s friend and former campaign chairman described the incoming congressman as “a true servant” in an interview with the News-Star.
“American politics is dominated by people who are always seeking attention; Luke doesn’t care who gets the credit,” Franklin said during the campaign. “That’s the mark of a true leader; a true servant.”
Franklin also noted that Abraham and Letlow’s political achievements were proof that “no matter where you come from you can make a difference, and that’s what’s great about America.”
Back then, Letlow told the outlet that he wanted to “represent everybody in the 5th District whether they voted for me or not.”
“I want to move everybody forward by focusing on policy and projects that can do that,” he said.
After news of his passing, dozens of people close to Letlow posted messages remembering the congressman-elect as an accomplished and kind person.
“Luke had such a positive spirit and a tremendously bright future,” Rep. Steve Scalise, R-La., tweeted on Tuesday. “Join me in praying for his young family during this incredibly difficult time.”
Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards said Letlow “felt a calling from a young age to serve the people of his home state” in a Tuesday tweet.
Letlow’s family “appreciates the numerous prayers and support over the past days” but is asking “for privacy during this difficult and unexpected time,” Andrew Bautsch, the Letlow spokesman, said in a statement.