(January 4, 1958 – January 26, 2021)
“There is nothing better for a man, than that he should eat and drink, and that he should make his soul enjoy good in his labour,” says Ecclesiastes 2:24 (KJV), for this is “from the hand of God.” Stephen J. Oats, who passed away unexpectedly on January 26, 2021, truly modeled these values. His was a life of service in ways that many of us may not know, but all of us have felt.
A Lafayette native, Steve co-founded Oats & Hudson with William “Mart” Hudson in 1986 after graduating from Tulane University School of Law in 1983. Oats & Hudson became Oats & Marino after Mart Hudson passed away in 2010 and Larry Marino partnered with Steve.
Steve served his city, state, and community by working closely with state and local governments and private clients for over thirty years, providing leadership that led to many beneficial projects throughout the state. “Steve felt a special calling to serve public interest clients and government agencies. Maintaining integrity in the service of the public good was vital to him, and he dedicated much of his professional life to that goal,” said Patrick McIntire, one of Steve’s longtime law partners at Oats & Marino. As outside general counsel for his alma mater, the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, Steve was involved in nearly every aspect of UL’s growth, both academically and athletically. As Assistant City-Parish Attorney for many years, Steve guided local leaders as they enacted plans and projects that improved our city and parish. As a Special Assistant Attorney General, Steve protected the State’s interest in all forms of litigation. He also worked closely with the Lafayette Parish Clerk of Court, Assessor, and Sheriff, to name a few. Just as importantly, Steve represented many individuals and businesses too numerous to list, but all of whom he considered friends. Clients became friends, and friends became clients.
An ability to guide the ship and build consensus were some of Steve’s greatest gifts in his practice. According to Larry Marino, “Steve’s tenacity and ability to remain cool under fire were remarkable, and something others have commented on over the past few weeks. I’m not sure whether they were innate qualities or something he developed over his long and varied career, but both made him a fierce contender in and outside of the courtroom, and a loyal advocate for his clients. And yet he was extremely fair, seeking first to find creative solutions that worked for everyone. His ability to ‘connect the dots,’ often by combining seemingly unrelated matters, was unparalleled.”
Steve served the profession by mentoring many lawyers who worked with him over the years, beginning with teaching legal research and writing while in law school at Tulane. Throughout his career he invested many hours of his own time to impart his years of experience, his “client focus,” and his motto of “begin with the end in mind” on the lawyers that he employed. Many LBA members, including this author, are better professionals because of his influence and investment. But his mentorship was not limited to the practice, as Cearley Fontenot, who worked with Steve for the past eight years at Oats & Marino, reflected: “Steve was my mentor, not just in a professional sense; his direction helped me to grow spiritually, personally and professionally. I’m very grateful to have had the time with him that I did.”
Steve served his hometown as an enthusiastic supporter of all things that make this area special. Larry Marino noted that “Lafayette had no greater supporter than Steve Oats. He unabashedly championed its unique attributes, including its culture, its Downtown – and, of course, duck hunting. His love of the University of Louisiana and the depth of his knowledge of its history and workings are a story on its own. He was one of UL’s best ambassadors, both as counsel and as a baseball fan.”
But Steve may have been most at home on his farm enjoying a fine meal with family and friends before a morning hunt. Steve loved hunting ducks and geese, and he loved to host others on hunting trips. He also found ways to turn his passion for hunting into service, as he served as Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries Commissioner, and was a lifetime sponsor of Ducks Unlimited.
Most of all, Steve was devoted to his family, his friends, and his faith. He adored his wife of 42 years, Sylvia. He dearly loved his mother, his two sisters, his Goddaughter, and many nieces and nephews. Steve was loyal and generous to those he counted as friends, and particularly those in need. As Larry Marino aptly observed, “Steve’s obituary referred to him as having ‘an expansive sphere.’ That description is so true. His interest in people led him to have a wide range of friends. He was particularly supportive and generous with those starting out, and those in need. I think of Mr. Rogers’ quote about ‘looking for the helpers.’ That was Steve. You could always count on him. I miss his reliability, his great counsel, and his friendship.” As to faith, Anyone who spent time with Steve can attest that his faith guided him in all aspects of his life. He was a longtime parishioner at St. John’s Cathedral in Lafayette, and he counted many priests among his friends. He is undoubtedly enjoying the fruit of that faith now.
Congratulations, Steve, on a life well lived. You showed us all what it means to live fully, to enjoy what truly matters, to find satisfaction our work, and to serve others. You will be missed, but your vast legacy will live on.