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Paul Rainwater cropped
Paul Rainwater
Rainwater to be commencement speaker
Governor's chief of staff to share keys to success with fall graduates
By Jerry Pierce

NATCHITOCHES - Paul Rainwater’s varied and vital roles in the towers and trenches of local, state and federal government over the past two decades seemed far out of reach in the long months that he was searching for a job after graduating from college.

Chief of Staff for Gov. Bobby Jindal and the keynote speaker for Northwestern State University’s commencement ceremonies Dec. 14, Rainwater exemplifies the perseverance and preparation for a successful career that graduation speakers often emphasize.

Louisiana’s economy had nose-dived in the early 1980s when Rainwater got his bachelor’s degree in government from McNeese State University, and double digit unemployment kept him from finding a job. He got by with a little income from part-time work and the Army Reserves.  

Rainwater finally got in at the ground level of government with a job at the Calcasieu Parish Police Jury.  He made $5.50 an hour researching and verifying addresses throughout the parish for the establishment of the 9-1-1 emergency telephone system.

The bayous and backwoods of Calcasieu were familiar stomping grounds to Rainwater, who grew up in the little town of DeQuincy and didn’t get too far from home when he went off to college across the parish at McNeese.

Paul was born at Fort Hood, Tex., where his dad was stationed after being called to active duty during the Cuban missile crisis.  They moved the next year to DeQuincy where his father worked for a while at a correctional facility and later at a B.F. Goodrich plant in nearby Orange, Tex.

The move to DeQuincy was a drastic cultural change for Paul’s mother.  Her dad was from Baghdad, Iraq.  She met her future husband when he was in the Army in Frankfurt, Germany, and her father was a translator for the U.S. State Department.

She was a naturalized citizen and a homemaker, raising Paul and his two brothers in the lumber and railroad town of a few thousand people.  Paul liked to hunt squirrels and deer in the surrounding woods and catch catfish and gar in the Sabine River and Alligator Slough.

More than anything, though, he liked sports.  There were year-round sandlot baseball games, tackle football without pads in open fields, pick-up basketball on dirt courts in his younger years and American Legion baseball and high school sports later on.

He played center and tackle on DeQuincy Fighting Tiger football teams coached by Don Guidry who was a quarterback on Northwestern’s undefeated 1966 team.   Guidry helped break a long DeQuincy losing streak with a win over Buckeye  

Guidry guided a couple of his DeQuincy players to NSU and tried to interest Rainwater in going to Northwestern.  But McNeese was closer to home and also offered Paul a chance to play football. He got deeply involved in his studies, joined the ROTC to help pay expenses and drifted away from athletics.

Rainwater knew DeQuincy mayors Buddy Hennigan and Gary Cooper and was fascinated by the way government worked in his little hometown and at other levels, so he majored in government at McNeese and became the first member of his dad’s side of the family to graduate from college.

ROTC training resulted in a military commission for Rainwater, who would later be assigned to work in civil affairs and finances.  He earned a graduate degree in international relations during that period, and his interest in government and politics expanded.

After extensive military service and learning the nuts and bolts of local government, Rainwater became an administrative aide for the Calcasieu Parish Police Jury.  In that role, he headed up the response to Hurricane Andrew that resulted in the evacuation of the area in 1992 and established a reputation for dealing with disasters.

He was elevated to the rank of colonel in the Army Reserve and served stints in Iraq and Afghanistan after becoming chief administrative officer for the city of Lake Charles.  He has been awarded the Bronze Star Medal, Army Commendation Medal and Combat Action Badge.

Rainwater worked with state officials in organizing recovery efforts in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, and he headed the evacuation of Lake Charles when Hurricane Rita ripped through that city later in 2005.

Before moving to the position in Lake Charles, Paul had served as manager of governmental affairs for Conoco, Inc.’s Gulf Coast Business Unit in Baton Rouge and later as manager of public affairs for Arco Chemical in Lake Charles.

Those high profile positions that provided opportunities for lobbying and other federal and state governmental affairs activities led to Rainwater’s appointment as the legislative director and chief of operations for U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu.

With degrees in government and international relations, years of military service in this nation and abroad, success in preparing for and responding to emergencies and experience in federal, state and local government, Rainwater was appointed by Jindal as executive director of the Louisiana Recovery Authority in 2008.

Jindal had met Rainwater during the response to Hurricane Rita and was impressed with his crisis management skills.  Rainwater said he admired Jindal’s leadership style and has gained even greater admiration for the governor while serving on his staff.  

An effective and respected administrator in state government, Paul became deputy chief of staff for Jindal and then commissioner of administration.  He is now one of the governor’s leading advisers as chief of staff.

Rainwater’s training and expertise have been especially important to the Jindal administration in dealing with Hurricanes Gustav and Ike and the BP oil spill off the Louisiana coast.

As chief of staff, he is at the forefront of policy and personnel decisions, budget and capital outlay issues, legislative agendas for the governor and all other areas of state government operations.

The job does not leave Rainwater much leisure time, but he enjoys following high school, college and professional sports, his National Guard duties that include working closely with Homeland Security, Bible Study and church services at the capitol with other senior staff members and spending time with his grown children.

His daughter is a senior at LSU, and Paul has lunch with her most Sundays.  He talks often with his son, who is an artist in Portland, Ore.  Rainwater also stays in touch by phone with his grandmother and other family members.

Paul Rainwater has come a long way in life and in government since scrambling to find a job and finally taking a minimum wage position with a police jury.

He has rubbed elbows with U.S. Senators and Representatives at the nation’s capital as a lobbyist and legislative aide, climbed to the highest levels of state government, become a leading authority on emergency management and is a high-ranking military officer.

Northwestern students, faculty, staff and the public will reap the benefits of his vast experience and substantial achievements when he speaks at the mid-year commencement ceremonies.