By Derrill Holly, NRECA
Mike Guidry, a passionate advocate for affordable and reliable electricity who built a global reputation as a leader, mentor and teacher of electric cooperative executives, died March 31 after a long battle with cancer. He was 73.
Guidry, who spent more than two decades as CEO of South Louisiana Electric Cooperative Association, served 14 years on the NRECA board and was president in 2011-2012.
“Mike’s leadership and impact on the cooperative network was far-reaching and is sustained to this day,” said NRECA CEO Jim Matheson. “His personality and ability to connect with people of all walks was the foundation of his success and will be his legacy for many in our membership.”
Arriving at SLECA in 1978, Guidry served as member services director and district manager. While his career included other work, once the board selected him as CEO, he remained in that post for 23 years.
Working on behalf of SLECA and the co-ops of Louisiana, his influence on electric co-ops nationally and globally were hallmarks of his long career.
“Mike always saw electric co-ops as being more about the people they serve than the power they provide. He always put members first in every decision he was involved in making,” said Mel Coleman, CEO of North Arkansas Electric Cooperative and a past president of NRECA.
Coleman and Guidry were co-recipients of the Clyde T. Ellis award in 2018 for their work on behalf of electric co-ops.
“Mike was behind the formation of NRECA’s resolution review committee, which still ensures that every resolution guiding electric co-ops and their national organization supports and reflects the goals and desires of our members,” Coleman said.
In his time at SLECA, Guidry helped guide the co-op through rebuilding portions of its system after numerous hurricanes.
“During Hurricane Gustav, in 2009, he ran out in 130 mph winds to inspect the damage at our fueling station in the rear of our building because the canopy had blown off. You couldn’t hold him back,” said Joe Ticheli, a former staffer at the at the Association of Louisiana Electric Cooperatives who first met Guidry in the 1980s.
Working together on state and regional co-op issues, the two developed a lasting friendship. When SLECA needed to fill a member services post, Guidry offered Ticheli the job.
“Someone asked me why I was moving from Baton Rouge to a small town like Houma, and I responded with two words: ‘Mike Guidry.’” When Guidry retired in 2011, Ticheli succeeded him as SLECA’s general manager.
Guidry’s people skills and proud Cajun heritage were consistently part of his professional and personal style. He’d speak in French to older Cajuns who dropped into co-op offices and once delivered part of an opening statement at a congressional hearing on behalf of NRECA in Cajun French, mesmerizing House committee members.
Representing NRECA abroad, where he spent time with foreign dignitaries and co-op leaders in Latin America and Asia, he was also known for getting out to meet ordinary people.
“We were sitting on the veranda of our hotel room overlooking a plaza. Mike decided that his combination of Spanish and Cajun French was good enough for conversation,” recalled Martin Lowery, a former NRECA senior executive vice president who accompanied Guidry on a visit to Managua, Nicaragua. “Mike walked into the plaza and spent at least an hour talking to folks.”
Lowery said Guidry’s devotion to international cooperative development will be a hallmark of his legacy. When Typhoon Haiyan struck the Philippines in 2013, NRECA International helped raise funds, assisting 10 co-ops with recovery and reconstruction. Guidry and Lowery visited the storm-ravaged nation.
“Mike and I toured the devastated areas and at the end of the tour we stood at a church where entire families had been buried in mass graves,” said Lowery. “It was an intense experience and Mike was moved by it as a man of faith who had great empathy for people.”
Guidry’s enthusiasm for the co-op network helped forge lasting relationships with younger staffers who benefited from his mentoring.
“Mike lived the cooperative principles every day. He was especially committed to the education principle whether it be Youth Tour, safety training or, as we saw after his retirement, director and employee training,” said Addie Armato, CEO of Louisiana’s statewide electric co-op association.
Armato first learned of Guidry’s commitment to community when she escorted the Louisiana Electric Youth Tour delegation to Washington as a young staffer from New Roads-based Pointe Coupee Electric Membership Corp. in 2004.
“He would call us every year to check on us, regularly. He wanted to know how the trip was going and he would ask about the weather in D.C.,” Armato remembers.
Guidry was NRECA’s Louisiana director when hurricanes Katrina and Rita devastated the region in 2005 and was vocal, visible and active during the lengthy recovery period that followed.
“He made sure that everyone knew we were going to build back better and stronger but more importantly we had not lost our ‘joie de vie’ [joy of life],” said Armato. “Throughout his life he served his cooperative, the great state of Louisiana, and our cooperative nation well.”
Cooperation among cooperatives and collaboration with co-op leaders made Guidry popular with co-op executives, elected directors and industry association staff.
“Mike had the ability to listen, and because he loved people, he was always willing to hear all sides,” said Wally Wolski, who preceded Guidry as NRECA president.
Wolski, who represented Wyoming throughout their shared years on the NRECA board, called Guidry his “best friend.” When illness prevented Guidry from attending NRECA’s PowerXchange with his wife in March, Wolski arranged a virtual session for Guidry with 30 of the meeting’s attendees.
“Mike was a teacher who continued to lead director and executive training sessions for NRECA even after he left the board,” said Wolski. “His instruction and commitment to the cooperative business model will continue to have an impact on our program for years to come.”
Guidry will be remembered as one of the outstanding leaders of the electric cooperative program, said Glenn English, former NRECA CEO. “One of his greatest talents was his ability to bridge the gap that sometimes exists between managing directors and elected directors to pursue benefits for co-op members.”
English cited Guidry’s ability to work with diverse groups and relate to varied interests and priorities as factors of his successful leadership as board president.
“Mike understood that the foundation of our program is mainly the members,” said English. “His willingness to focus on the needs of those last families at the end of the line really mattered to him, and he made sure it mattered to all of us.”
Guidry took co-op business seriously, but he was also gregarious, outgoing and known for his good humor and having fun. His love of LSU football and the NFL’s New Orleans Saints sparked spirited debates with other directors, and his appreciation for Cajun cooking prompted pop-up buffets at several co-op gatherings far from Louisiana over the years.
“Mike not only loved a good burger, but he also loved a great road show and sharing his Cajun heritage was something we all enjoyed,” said English.
Guidry is survived by his wife of 50 years, Candace Ann Bush Guidry, a daughter, Lindsey A. Guidry, and granddaughter, Brielle.