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'Louisiana Lightning,' Rodrigue Named Outstanding Alumni

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From the baseball diamond to a canvas ready for painting, this year’s Outstanding Alumni from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette have shown they have what it takes to truly be known as outstanding.

Ron Guidry and George Rodrigue are being recognized by Louisiana’s Alumni Association this Homecoming season. The pair are being honored as part of an annual tradition where the Alumni Association recognizes alumni for outstanding qualities and dedication to the university.

Guidry, who pitched for the Ragin’ Cajun baseball team during his college career, is a standout in the world of baseball. He was recently honored with a plaque at Monument Park in Yankee Stadium and his number 49 jersey was officially retired in August during a special ceremony by the New York Yankees. His number is one of only 16 uniform numbers to be retired throughout the 100-year existence of the Yankees. Of the 16, only two are from pitchers - Guidry and Whitey Ford.

Known as “Louisiana Lightning,” Guidry is most remembered for having one the greatest single seasons of all time in 1978. That year, the former Ragin’ Cajun had 248 strikeouts, which broke a Yankee record set in 1904. Guidry also tied Babe Ruth’s American League record set in 1917 for most shutouts by a left-handed pitcher. These both unanimously earned him the American League Cy Young Award.

Other career highlights include 170 wins, 1778 strikeouts and 2392 innings pitched. He is the only pitcher to be named Yankees captain (from 1986-88) and set a club record of 18 strikeouts in a game. He set another club record for consecutive wins (13).

In addition to the Cy Young Award, Guidry also is an American League Gold Glove winner, American League All-Star, Sporting News Player of the Year, Associated Press Athlete of the Year and Roberto Clemente Award recipient.

Artist George Rodrigue dreamed of painting as a career while attending classes at UL Lafayette in the 1960s. Now, the artist probably known best for his “Blue Dog” paintings is nationally recognized. In 1977, “The Cajuns of George Rodrigue” became the first book published nationally on the Cajun culture. The artist and his paintings gained further attention when the book was chosen by the First Lady as the official White House gift during the Carter administration.

Rodrigue later received commissions to paint Presidents Ronald Reagan, George Bush and Bill Clinton, as well as Louisiana governors Huey Long, Earl Long and Edwin Edwards.

Other honors include his role as the first American artist to receive an award at Le Salon des Artistes in Paris as well as his record-breaking poster sales with portraits of Louis Armstrong, Pete Fountain and Al Hirt for the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival.

It was his experience with projects in advertising and design at UL Lafayette and the Art Center in Pasadena, however, which brought him the greatest success. Companies such as Absolut Vodka and Xerox Corporation approached him to design ads and create paintings to promote their products. This exposure led to publishing contracts and resulted in five Rodrigue Blue Dog books since 1994.

Publisher Harry Abrams recently completed a 40-year retrospective monograph of Rodrigue’s career for release in the U.S. and Europe this year. Titled “The Art of George Rodrigue,” the book of 265 images spotlights his most important paintings, beginning with the canvases he created during his years at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, followed by bayou scenes and “Jolies Blondes” and ending with his increasingly abstract Blue Dog works and recent Hurricane paintings.

The Outstanding Alumni Award is the highest honor the university bestows upon a former student. It is given in recognition of outstanding professionalism and personal achievements which have brought honor and distinction to the university. Final selections for the award are made by the Alumni Council.