Percy Joseph “P.J.” Mills, a former Louisiana legislator, who was instrumental in rescuing Blue Cross Blue Shield when it was financially troubled in the 1990s, died Jan. 16 in New Orleans at the age of 87 after battling Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.
Mills was born Jan. 10, 1934. He graduated from Catholic High School in Baton Rouge in 1951. He received his undergraduate degree in business administration from LSU and then his master’s degree in government and public administration. While at LSU, Mills was awarded the first J. Kimbrough Owen Fellowship for graduate study and worked at the Public Affairs Research Council.
His continuing education included a degree from Southern Methodist Graduate School of Banking.
In 1959, Mills and his wife moved to Shreveport, where he accepted a position as manager of the Governmental Affairs Department of the Shreveport Chamber of Commerce. Later, he moved into banking and took a position as vice president of Pioneer Bank and Trust Company in Shreveport. During his 10 years at the bank, Mills was elected to the Louisiana House of Representatives from Caddo Parish and was a member of the group of newly elected representatives called “the Young Turks,” who were credited with reforming the House during Gov. John McKeithen’s final term in office, 1968-1972.
In 1971, Gov. Edwin Edwards appointed Mills as director of the newly appointed Louisiana Superport Authority, an agency created to permit, build and operate the first offshore deep-water supertanker terminal in the United States. This position involved moving the family, of now five children, to New Orleans. Mills remained with the agency until construction began on the facility in 1975.
Mills left public life in 1976 and re-entered the private sector. He joined Leon Irwin and Company Insurance Agency and settled into life in the insurance business in New Orleans.
In 1989, newly elected Gov. Buddy Roemer asked Mills to return to public service and join his administration as the Governor’s Chief of Staff. Mills accepted and served Roemer and the state for four years.
After leaving the governor’s office, Mills was recruited to become president and CEO of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana. Mills spent the remainder of his working life with Blue Cross and led the company to a firm financial position with extraordinary growth. Mills retired from Blue Cross in 2000.
The list of boards and committees on which Mills served is lengthy, entailing everything from his children’s schools (Jesuit High School and Academy of the Sacred Heart) to the Pennington Biomedical Research Center and Bureau of Governmental Research.
For his years of service, Mills received many awards and recognitions, including the Golden Bear Award as the Catholic High Alumnus of the Year.
LSU commanded a special place in his heart, especially because Mills grew up just off campus in Baton Rouge as his father was a professor of botany at LSU.
Mills was a member and president of the Lamda Chi Alpha fraternity. Mills met his wife at LSU and all six of his children attended LSU. Mills had the honor of serving on the board of directors of the LSU Foundation and chairman of the LSU National Alumni Fund.