Charles deGravelles

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Charles Camille "Charlie" deGravelles, Jr.
Louisiana State Republican chairman
In office
1968–1972
Preceded by Charlton Lyons
Succeeded by James H. Boyce
Personal details
Born (1913-06-24)June 24, 1913
Morgan City
St. Mary Parish
Louisiana, USA
Died August 28, 2008(2008-08-28) (aged 95)
Lafayette, Lafayette Parish, Louisiana
Spouse(s) Mary Virginia Wheadon deGravelles (married 1935 – his death)
Children Mary Alix deGravelles (deceased)

Charles Nations deGravelles
John Wheadon deGravelles
Elizabeth Claire Cloninger
Virginia Ann McBride Norton
13 grandchildren

Occupation Oil and gas landman
Religion Episcopalian
(1) The successor to Charlton Lyons as state Republican chairman, deGravelles was involved in the elections in the 1970s of David C. Treen and Henson Moore to the United States House of Representatives, the first GOP members of Congress from Louisiana since Reconstruction.

(2) Though born in Morgan City and reared in Thibodaux, deGravelles spent most of his life in Lafayette, where he was long affiliated with Amoco.

(3) When they registered to vote in 1941, deGravelles and his wife, the former Virginia Wheadon, were the first declared white Republicans in Lafayette Parish in many years.

(4) In his later years, deGravelles was unsuccessful in an attempt to recall from office Democratic Mayor Kenny Bowen of Lafayette.

(5) In 2007, deGravelles and his wife, the former Virginia Wheadon, were jointly inducted into the Louisiana Political Hall of Fame in Winnfield, the first couple selected at the same time since the organization was formed in 1993.

(6) Son John Wheadon deGravelles is a Democrat and a judge of the United States District Court for the Middle District of Louisiana, a Barack Obama appointee.

Charles Camille deGravelles, Jr. (June 24, 1913 – August 28, 2008), known as Charlie deGravelles, was a Lafayette oil and gas landman who was a pioneer in the development of the Republican Party in the formerly historically Democratic state of Louisiana. Known as the "Mr. Republican of Acadiana", deGravelles and his wife, the former Mary Virginia Wheadon (born December 4, 1915), held leadership positions in the GOP from 1968 to 1972 and from 1964 to 1968, respectively. DeGravelles was the party chairman, and Mrs. deGravelles was national committeewoman. When deGravelles assumed the chairmanship, the Louisiana GOP had only 28,427 registered members, barely 2 percent of the state's voters.[1] For a brief time in 1968, both de Gravelleses were members of the Republican National Committee, a husband-wife combination that has not since repeated itself.[2]

Early years, family, and education[edit]

DeGravelles (pronounced De GRA Vell) was born in Morgan City, located in both St. Martin and St. Mary parishes,[3] to Charles C. deGravelles, Sr. (1883–1948), and the former Mary Eleanor Nations, originally from Beeville, Texas. He was reared in Thibodaux, the parish seat of Lafourche Parish. His physician-father practiced in Morgan City from 1910 to 1933 and thereafter in New Iberia, where he was the last doctor to make house calls. Mary deGravelles died, and Charles, Sr., married the former Mary Riddle, originally from Bentonville, Arkansas. DeGravelles had a brother, Norbert Roth deGravelles and a half-sister by the father's second marriage, Martha Tabb deGravelles Marcantel [4] The obituary of deGravelles, Jr., indicates that an uncle, E. N. Roth, Jr., was instrumental in young Charles's rearing, presumably after the death of Mary Nations deGravelles.[3]

DeGravelles graduated from Thibodaux High School in 1930. He then enrolled at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, where he met Virginia, the daughter of a hotel owner from Alexandria, the seat of Rapides Parish and the largest city in Central Louisiana. On September 14, 1935, the couple eloped and were married by a justice of the peace in Woodville in Wilkinson County, Mississippi. They had five children: twin sons from Baton Rouge (born 1949), Charles Nations deGravelles, an Episcopal archdeacon and a political Independent, and John Wheadon deGravelles, an attorney and a Democrat, who in 2014 became a Judge of the United States District Court for the Middle District of Louisiana, and three daughters, Mary Alix deGravelles (deceased), Elizabeth Claire Cloniger and husband, Spike, of Fairhope in Baldwin County near Mobile, Alabama, and Virginia Ann McBride Norton of Bali, Indonesia. Claire is a writer of books and Christian music. Ann owns a photographic company, Photo Voice. Son-in-law Ed Norton works for the Nature Conservancy in environmental projects. DeGravelles' eldest child Alix was a therapist and social worker. She died of lung cancer in 1999. At the time of his death, Charles and Virginia had thirteen grandchildren, sixteen great-grandchildren, and one great-great-grandchild.[3]

A man of the oil industry[edit]

Between 1930 and 1936, deGravelles received his bachelor’s degree and law degree from LSU. He was also in the LSU Tigers band. He did not practice law but was instead employed in 1937 as a landman (one who scouts potential leases) for the former Stanolind Oil and Gas Company, since Amoco, based in Lake Charles, the seat of Calcasieu Parish in southwestern Louisiana.[2]

DeGravelles knew some French and had a French last name but was Episcopalian, not Roman Catholic. The company believed that he could connect well with the local people at Anse la Butte, where he procured the leases. In 1941, de Gravelles moved permanently to Lafayette. He remained with the same company until his official retirement in 1999 at the age of eighty-six. During his time in Lafayette, deGravelles watched the city grow rapidly because of the expansion of the oil industry.[5]

Lafayette's first registered white Republicans[edit]

Charles deGravelles, Sr., in addition to his role in various medical associations, had been a member of the Iberia Parish Democratic Executive Committee.[4] Charles and Virginia deGravelles, however, became in 1941 the first two white persons in many years to register as Republican voters in Lafayette Parish. The only open Republicans then were a few African Americans, who were frozen out of the pivotal Democratic primaries. However, the Republican David W. Pipes, Jr., a favorite of sugar growers, switched parties to seek the Acadiana-based Third Congressional District seat in 1940 and polled a third of the vote[6]

The deGravelleses hence were included among the oldest living Republicans in the state of Louisiana. They worked steadily to promote Republican principles and goals, even as Louisiana seemed permanently tied to the Democratic Party. He supported the 1960 Republican gubernatorial nominee, Francis Grevemberg (1914–2008), a former Democrat. Old-timers remember the gatherings at their home, when the Republican membership was so small that it fit comfortably in the deGravelles' living room. As Louisiana began to vote Republican, particularly in presidential elections, deGravelles could claim some of the credit for the changes. In time, Lafayette itself became one of the most Republican of Louisiana’s sixty-four parishes. Even in defeat in 2003, current Governor Bobby Jindal, still carried Lafayette Parish, the residence of his successful opponent, former Governor Kathleen Babineaux Blanco.[7]

de Gravelles in partisan politics[edit]

In November 1966, deGravelles made his only race for public office: the Third District seat on the since reconfigured Louisiana State Board of Education. He polled 24,236 votes (35.3 percent) against the Democrat Harvey Peltier, Sr., who received 44,413 ballots (64.7 percent). In that same election, Charlton Lyons's younger son, Hall Lyons, then a Lafayette oilman, ran unsuccessfully against U.S. Representative Edwin E. Willis for Louisiana's 3rd congressional district seat.[8] The Democrat William J. "Bill" Dodd was then the education superintendent, and the state board was all-Democratic. DeGravelles’ interest in education had been whetted from 1955 to 1962, when he taught oil and gas law at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, then known as Southwestern Louisiana Institute and the University of Southwestern Louisiana.[2]

In 1968, deGravelles succeeded Charlton Havard Lyons, Sr., of Shreveport in Caddo Parish, as the Louisiana party chairman. On March 3, 1964, Lyons had been the pioneer Republican gubernatorial candidate in the general election. After the Goldwater national defeat, though he wad won Louisiana’s then ten electoral votes, deGravelles and Lyons committed themselves in 1968 to the nomination of former Richard M. Nixon. A minority within the Louisiana delegation to the 1968 Republican National Convention held in Miami Beach, however, favored then Governor Ronald W. Reagan of California for the party’s nomination. DeGravelles summed up the majority opinion of the Louisiana party when he said, "much as I admire Governor Reagan, I feel that Nixon has a broad appeal and is the best qualified man in either party."[9]

In May 1968, deGravelles discounted the victory by Governor Nelson A. Rockefeller of New York in the presidential primary in Massachusetts over the favorite-son choice, Governor John Volpe. DeGravelles predicted that if a second candidate emerged at the Republican convention it would be Reagan, not Rockefeller.[10] Two weeks later, however, a Harris Poll showed Rockefeller the strongest candidate for president in either party, with Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey in second place. Rockefeller had entered the race for the nomination too late to amass the critical delegates needed. Humphrey's late start was mitigated by his inheriting the supporters of President Lyndon B. Johnson, who withdrew from consideration on March 31, 1968.[11]

Chairman deGravelles correctly predicted that Nixon would be vigorously challenged in Louisiana, not by Humphrey but by the third-party forces pledged to then former Alabama Governor George C. Wallace, Jr., a favorite of many blue collar white workers. Most of the Louisiana GOP delegates favored Reagan as a vice-presidential choice in 1968,[12] a selection that ultimately went to Governor Spiro T. Agnew of Maryland, who was subsequently forced to resign in 1973 for tax evasion and bribery.

Louisiana was among the five states which supported Wallace in 1968. Nixon-Agnew electors drew 257,535 votes (23.5 percent) in Louisiana, to Wallace's 530,300 (48.3 percent) and Humphrey's 309,615 (28.2 percent). Nixon ran 26,55 votes ahead of his 1960 showing in raw popular votes in Louisiana, but his 1968 showing was 5.1 percentage points below the previous standing.[13]

The deGravelleses each attended one national GOP convention: he in 1972 in Miami Beach, and she in 1964 in San Francisco. DeGravelles was succeeded as chairman by businessman James H. Boyce of Baton Rouge. Under Boyce's tutelage from 1972 to 1976, the Louisiana GOP participated in the 49-state sweep for Nixon, having lost the presidential vote in 1972 only in West Feliciana Parish. Moreover, under Boyce the still fledgling party did capture its first two seats in the United States House of Representatives since Reconstruction, with the election in 1972 of David C. Treen in the New Orleans suburbs and William Henson Moore, III, in a 1975 special election, which was a rerun of the regular November 1974 general election in the Baton Rouge district.[14]

Later political activities[edit]

In the 1970s, deGravelles worked with President Gerald R. Ford, Jr., but they grew particularly close to Ford’s intraparty rival, Ronald Reagan. It was deGravelles who had invited Reagan to campaign for Lyons in Louisiana. Reagan spoke on Lyons’ behalf in Lafayette, Lake Charles, and Baton Rouge.[3] While Lyons polled only 37.5 percent of the general election ballots against the Democrat John J. McKeithen, Republicans considered his candidacy a strong declaration that the state GOP was determined to become politically viable.[7]

During the 1980s, deGravelles contributed to the national and state parties as well as the U.S. Senate nominee, outgoing U.S. Representative Henson Moore, a narrow loser to the Democrat John B. Breaux, originally from Crowley in Acadia Parish in south Louisiana.[15] In 2005, deGravelles received the annual Reagan Republican Gold Medal.[16]

In 1993, deGravelles worked unsuccessfully to recall from office then Democratic Mayor Kenneth F. "Kenny" Bowen of Lafayette on grounds that Bowen was too much of a "micromanager" and too “unstable” to run the city efficiently and fairly. Though sufficient signatures were obtained to have the recall election, the judge disqualified many of the names, and Bowen completed his third and final term in office. Bowen had been a Republican in the 1960s and had worked with the deGravelleses. He cast his 1964 GOP convention vote, along with Virginia deGravelles, for Goldwater.[17]

Political Hall of Fame[edit]

Charles and Virginia deGravelles won several joint awards, primarily for their two-party and Republican activities. They have been honored with the George Washington Medal of Honor given by Freedoms Foundation of Valley Forge, Pennsylvania,[2] and the “Lifetime Achievement” honor from the Louisiana Republican Party. On January 27, 2007, they were inducted into the Louisiana Political Museum and Hall of Fame in Winnfield – the first couple honored together by the organization, which began recognizing Louisiana politicians in 1993. Former Congresswoman Corrine Claiborne "Lindy" Boggs of New Orleans was inducted in 1994, a year after posthumous honors were given to her husband, Thomas Hale Boggs, Sr. The deGravelleses' rival, Kenny Bowen, who had been a budding Lafayette Republican in the 1960s before he switched to the Democratic camp, was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2002, shortly before his death.[18]

DeGravelles, who had been using a wheelchair, died at his residence at 409 Azalea Street in Lafayette. News of his death was carried in the state’s newspapers and over television. A memorial service was held on September 6, 2008, at the Episcopal Church of the Ascension in Lafayette. Son Charles deGravelles of Trinity Episcopal Church in Baton Rouge was one of the three officiating ministers. DeGravelles was also a strong supporter of the Salvation Army. Mrs. deGravelles survives her husband of seventy-three years.[3]

References[edit]

  1. ^ State of Louisiana, “Statement of Registered Voters as of October 5, 1968”, Baton Rouge: Louisiana Secretary of State
  2. ^ a b c d Baton Rouge news, sports and entertainment on The Advocate
  3. ^ a b c d e Obituary of Charles deGravelles, Baton Rouge Morning Advocate, August 30, 2008
  4. ^ a b "DeGravelles, Sr., Charles Camille". lahistory.org. Retrieved December 14, 2010. 
  5. ^ Department Of History and Geography | Home Page
  6. ^ ’’Shreveport Times’’, November 3, 1940, p. 1
  7. ^ a b http://www.theadvertiser.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20080829/OPINION01/808290321
  8. ^ State of Louisiana: Secretary of State, Election Returns, 1965-1966, p. 28
  9. ^ ’’Shreveport Journal’’, August 8, 1968, p. 1
  10. ^ Minden Press-Herald, Minden, Louisiana, May 2, 1968, p. 8
  11. ^ Minden Press-Herald, May 14, 1968, p. 8
  12. ^ Shreveport Journal, August 6, 1968, p. 1
  13. ^ State of Louisiana, Election Returns, 1967-1968
  14. ^ Congressional Quarterly Weekly Report, October 26, 1974, p. 2962
  15. ^ LAFAYETTE, LA Political Contributions by Individuals
  16. ^ http://www.lapl.com/Newsletter/0306.pdf
  17. ^ NewsLibrary Search Results
  18. ^ http://www.cityofwinnfield.com/museum.html
Preceded by
Charlton Lyons
State chairman of the Louisiana Republican Party
1968–1972
Succeeded by
James H. Boyce