Monica Ann Harris Weisul, whose adventurous spirit took her from the offshore oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico to a long career in health care and service in the Louisiana State Legislature, passed away from injuries sustained in a fall at home in Missoula on Sept. 5, 2016. She was 58.
Monica was born Nov. 10, 1957, in New Orleans, the first child of Thomas Edgar Harris of Dallas, Texas, and Monica Jolene Smith Harris of Anson, Texas. She was raised along the Gulf Coast, attending schools in Houston and Corpus Christi and in Lafayette, Louisiana. She loved sports and participated in gymnastics, volleyball, softball and cheerleading.
After a stint at the University of Texas, Monica was hired as the first woman to work on an offshore oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico off the Louisiana coast, where she was a production specialist. Her next adventure was as co-owner and manager of the Jasmine Restaurant in Houston. She also continued her education, earning a bachelor of business degree, summa cum laude, from Sam Houston State University in 1987.
Soon after graduation, Monica gravitated to serving those disadvantaged and in need of care. She became a foster home developer and an alternative family care specialist and later was program director for Child and Adolescent Services at Briarwood Hospital in Alexandria, Louisiana, and program administrator for Adult Services at RiverNorth Psychiatric Hospital in Pineville, Louisiana.
In 1996 Monica’s entrepreneurial nature emerged and Paces Healthcare in Bunkie, Louisiana, was formed with Monica as president and CEO. A mental health management company, Paces Healthcare developed four geriatric inpatient psychiatric units and two outpatient programs in rural Louisiana. Paces Healthcare grew to employ a staff of 55 with an annual operating budget of $1.9 million. During this period, Monica also earned a master of science in administration degree from Central Michigan University with a GPA of 4.0.
In 2003 Monica accepted the challenge of serving the people of Louisiana in a different capacity. She became the first woman to be elected parish-wide to serve the citizens of Avoyelles Parish as Louisiana legislative state representative for District 28. In the Legislature, Monica served as vice-chair of Labor and Industrial Relations Committee, supporting the interest of small businesses, and championed legislation creating the Avoyelles Parish Economic Development Board. She also served as the only non-attorney on the Civil Law and Procedures Committee. Monica served on the Health and Welfare Committee and led the initiative to create the Louisiana Children and Youth Health Insurance Program (LaCHIP).
It was while serving in the Legislature that Monica met her future husband, Dr. Jonathan Weisul, and together they worked to pass the statewide Louisiana Clean Air Act. Monica was known as hardworking and diligent, researching each piece of legislation to develop a position that best served the people she represented. She was proud when her colleagues nicknamed her the "conscience of the Louisiana Legislature," and was known to be unflinching when on the "right side of righteous."
Monica and Jonathan were married in 2007 and in 2009 relocated to western Montana, settling in Missoula, surrounded by mountains and a cool climate Monica loved. Monica continued her community service and passion for improving behavioral health services on the board of directors of the Western Montana Mental Health Center and being elected a founding board member and vice-chair of the Recovery Center, creating the first inpatient addictions treatment facility in western Montana. Monica also served on the board of directors of the Western Montana Humane Society and was instrumental in developing a Legislative Committee to address animal cruelty. In economic development, Monica served as a board member of the Bitterroot Economical Development Board.
Monica continued her life of service, including being co-chair of the American Heart Association Go Red for Women in 2011 and co-chair of the American Cancer Society Relay for Life in 2016. She was elected to the board of directors of the Missoula Country Club in 2014 and served as the chair of Bylaws Committee and as board treasurer. She served the Women’s Golf Association in many positions and made hospitality and inclusiveness for all members her legacy.
Monica will always be remembered for her smile, her wit, her intelligence, and her joy in all people she met. Her love of politics and support of political candidates will be missed. Her southern hospitality and "crawfish boils" are legendary.
Monica’s love for animals was well known and often new friends were discovered over head rubs during walks. She had a special love for her four-legged family and often was heard saying, "All my children have paws." There will be a joyous reunion at the Rainbow Bridge.
Monica is survived by her husband, Jonathan Weisul; brother, Robert Harris; sister-in-law, Jill Harris; sister, Deborah Schwartz; brother-in-law, Buck Schwartz; nephews and niece, Jennifer, Stuart, Jacob, Trevor and JT. Monica is also survived by her four-legged kids, Jack, Ellie, Sassy, and Phoebe, who miss their mama very much.
According to Monica’s wish, a celebration of her life will be scheduled after a period of mourning.