James C. Gardner

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James C. Gardner
Jamesgardner-swearing-in.jpg
James Creswell Gardner's swearing in as the mayor of Shreveport, Louisiana (1954)
Mayor of Shreveport, Louisiana
In office
November 9, 1954 – 1958
Preceded by Clyde Edward Fant, Sr.
Succeeded by Clyde Edward Fant, Sr.
Shreveport City Council member
In office
1978–1982
Preceded by New position
Succeeded by Dee Peterson
State Representative from Caddo Parish (at-large)
In office
1952–1954
Preceded by Edwin Ford Hunter, Jr.
Succeeded by Frank Fulco, Sr.
Personal details
Born James Creswell Gardner
(1924-06-17)June 17, 1924
Shreveport, Caddo Parish, Louisiana, USA
Died August 27, 2010(2010-08-27) (aged 86)
Shreveport, Louisiana
Resting place Forest Park East Cemetery in Shreveport
Nationality American
Political party Democratic Party
Spouse(s) (1) Mary Ella Buchanan Gardner (married 1944-1976, her death)

(2) Mary Ann Welsh Gardner (married 1978-his death)

Children Ellen Buchanan Gardner Caverlee

James C. "Cres" Gardner, II Stepdaughters:
Martha Elizabeth Hannigan
Margaret Welsh Clausen
Amye Wren Wilson

Occupation Power company executive
Religion United Methodist
Military service
Service/branch United States Army
Rank Second lieutenant
Battles/wars European Theater of Operations
(1) For most of the half century since he was mayor of Shreveport, Louisiana, Jim Gardner has been known as "Mr. Shreveport" because of his civic and community activities.

(2) Gardner wrote his memoirs of Shreveport, personal and political, in two volumes that cover much of the city's growth during his lifetime.

For the Republican former U.S. representative and lieutenant governor of North Carolina, see James Carson Gardner.

James Creswell Gardner, I, known as Jim Gardner (July 17, 1924–August 27, 2010),[1] was a power company executive best known as the mayor of Shreveport, Louisiana, who served a single term from 1954 to 1958.

Sometimes called Shreveport's "First Citizen," Jim Gardner was twenty-nine when elected mayor and thirty when he assumed the office. His progressive and independent politics in a decade of general conservatism may have impacted his defeat for a second term in 1958 by fellow Democrat Clyde Edward Fant, Sr.

In 1959, Gardner joined the administration of Southwestern Electric Power Company, which serves parts of Louisiana, Arkansas, and Texas. He retired as company vice president in 1987. He penned a two-volume personal and political autobiography of his life in Shreveport, entitled Jim Gardner and Shreveport (Ritz Publications of Shreveport). Vol. I covers 1924 to1958; Vol. II, 1959 to 2006.[1]

Early years and family heritage[edit]

Jim Gardner in his wagon in 1925 at the age of one
Gardner's first wife, the former Mary Ella Buchanan, in her wedding dress, October 14, 1944, in Aberdeen, Maryland
Creswell Avenue in the Highlands section of Shreveport is named for Judge David Creswell, Gardner's maternal great-grandfather.

Gardner was born in Shreveport to Arvill Pitt "Jack" Gardner and the former Marie Creswell. His maternal grandfather, James Pleasants Creswell, owned the former Creswell Hotel in Shreveport. James Creswell's wife died when daughter Marie was an adolescent, and he did not remarry. Instead, father and daughter worked together in the management of the hotel. Arvill Gardner, born in 1892 in Carroll County, Tennessee, moved to Shreveport in 1914. After his marriage to Marie, the couple operated the former Gardner Hotel in the 400 block of Milam Street in downtown Shreveport.[1] Jack Gardner subsequently died in a house fire. James Gardner's maternal great-grandmother, Julia Pleasants Creswell, the mother of James Pleasants Creswell, wrote several books about life in the American Civil War era, one called Callamura, an autobiographical novel first published when she and her husband, Judge David Creswell (Gardner's great-grandfather), lived in Greenwood, a Caddo Parish community west of Shreveport. Callamura was republished by Ritz Publications in 2003, after a copy was found dormant in a library in Indiana.

Gardner is a descendant of Thomas Bibb, the second governor of Alabama, and Pierce Mason Butler, the governor of South Carolina from 1836–1838, who was killed in the Mexican-American War.[1] Julia Pleasants and David Creswell were married in 1854 at Bibb's Corinthian column house at Belle Mina in Madison County near Huntsville, Alabama.

In 1944, at the age of twenty, Gardner married childhood sweetheart Mary Ella Buchanan. They had graduated together in 1940 from C.E. Byrd High School, the first public high school established in Shreveport.[1]

Gardner entered basic training in the United States Army and was admitted to Officer Candidate School as a second lieutenant. His Reserve Officers Training Corps unit was sent from Camp Beauregard near Pineville, Louisiana, to Fort Benning, Georgia. With his commission, Gardner was assigned to the European Theater of Operations in World War II. He landed at Cherbourg, France, and then was assigned to Nuremberg, Germany, where he became a keen observer of the Nazi war crime trials. In June 1946 he was discharged at Camp Shelby, Mississippi, and returned to Shreveport, where he spent the remainder of his life.[1]

After the war, he obtained a bachelor's degree in history from Louisiana State University. In 1963, at 39, Gardner passed the Louisiana bar exam after taking night classes at Centenary College of Louisiana[1] and four years of self-study, an option no longer available to potential lawyers who must complete law school before taking the qualifying examination.

Mary Ella died of cancer on December 28, 1976. James and Mary Ella Gardner had two children: Ellen Buchanan Gardner Caverlee (born 1946), and James Creswell "Cres" Gardner, II (born 1950). In 1978, Gardner married the former Mary Ann Welsh (born 1928).[1]

Mayor on the move[edit]

Gardner had an interest in politics from childhood. Native Shreveporter Stanley R. Tiner, a Pulitzer Prize winner now based in Biloxi, Mississippi, who is also a former editor of the since defunct Shreveport Journal, recounted a tale in a 1982 editorial that Gardner, at the age of five in 1929, came across Governor Huey Pierce Long, Jr., in the First National Bank of Shreveport. "My name is James Creswell Gardner. I voted for you, but my mom and dad didn't," the child supposedly told the startled Louisiana legend. Tiner was so impressed with Gardner's talents that he once offered the power company executive a job writing for the Shreveport Journal. Gardner declined in part because he could not take the pay cut involved and was not yet then fully vested in his SWEPCO retirement. He continued to write occasional columns for newspapers over the years.

Gardner saw politics as a means to improve the lives of citizens in the community. He was elected to the Louisiana House of Representatives in 1952, when he was twenty-seven. He left the legislature after his election as mayor two years later. As a legislator, he worked for passage in the tumultuous 1954 session of right-to-work legislation, which was repealed two years later on the return of Earl Kemp Long to the governorship.

In the Gardner administration, Shreveport took the initial steps toward the development of the Red River waterfront and Interstate 20, launched during the administration of U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower. The interstate system is also named for Eisenhower. There was a large bond program to finance massive overhauls and modernization of the Shreveport water and sewerage systems and streets, substantial urban renewal projects, important annexations, and general civic growth and development.

Though he served only one term as mayor, Gardner is remembered for laying the groundwork for bringing Shreveport into the modern municipal era. Later mayors did not hesitate to call upon Gardner to promote civic issues. He was also designated "Mr. Shreveport".[1]

Over the years, Gardner was called upon for many public duties. In 1965, Governor John J. McKeithen named him the vice-chairman of the newly established Louisiana State Science Foundation, which located funding for promising research endeavors to improve the state economy. Gardner moved up to the chairmanship in 1966, when Baton Rouge attorney Theo Cangelosi stepped down after a year because of temporary health problems.

Gardner writes his memoirs[edit]

For years, Gardner has fought heart disease. He had bypass surgery in 1978 and again in 2006. His physician, Dr. Michael Futtrell, told the Shreveport Times that he recommended the surgery because he considered Gardner to have been physically younger than his chronological age.

As he recovered from the surgery, Gardner finished his second memoir: "I've felt blessed to have had the mental and physical health to allow me to finish. I have always been blessed with an exceptional memory for details."

The second volume traces Gardner's relationship with the City of Shreveport and examines his personal life since 1959, when he had vacated the mayor's office to Clyde Fant. It covers family, marriages, births, and deaths. It includes Gardner's relationship with such political personalities as U.S. President William Jefferson Blythe "Bill" Clinton, Governors John McKeithen, Edwin Washington Edwards, and Charles Elson "Buddy" Roemer, III, and New Orleans Mayor deLesseps Story "Chep" Morrison, Sr. Fellow "progressive" Mayor Morrison attended Gardner's inauguration on November 9, 1954.

While a Democrat, Gardner has been politically independent. He supported Richard M. Nixon for the presidency in 1960, 1968, and 1972 and also backed the Republican congressional candidate Charlton Lyons in a 1961 special election. He took no public position in either the Democratic gubernatorial runoff primary, a disappointment to Morrison, or the 1964 presidential election.

Volume II examines Gardner's years as the president of the Chamber of Commerce and his service on the first Shreveport City Council under the mayor-council government, which took effect in 1978, having replaced the previous commission form of government under which Gardner had served as mayor years earlier. Gardner shares his campaign experience, details about his relationship with each Shreveport mayor, and an economic outlook on the changes which have occurred in Shreveport over the years. His tenure coincided with the election of the first three African Americans to the Shreveport City Council, including the Reverend Herman Farr, Hilry Huckaby, Jr., and subsequent State Senator Gregory Tarver.

The volume also offers an intimate look at Gardner's personal life. He discusses Mary' Ella's death and his experience with grief: "One thing I wanted to say to anybody experiencing loss is there is not a set way of handling it. We each handle it in our own way." He also wrote an article for Reader's Digest to explain how he finally managed to cope with his grief.

Gardner spent some four years writing the memoirs. He considers the books to be an inheritance for his family. Sarah Hudson-Pierce, the owner of Ritz Publications, and close confidante of Gardner since March 1987 when they met, told the Shreveport Times that the autobiography is moreover "a gift to Shreveport. He has given the community and future generations a glimpse back to see how Shreveport operated. He has a more comprehensive memory than anyone [else] in the area. He's always been very active and interested in politics. . ."

Tiner's analysis of Gardner's leadership[edit]

Stanley Tiner, then with the since defunct Shreveport Journal, offered his analysis of Gardner's impact on Shreveport when the businessman declined to seek a second four-year term on the city council in 1982:

"Superlatives are used in such profusion these days that they tend to lose much of their impact. For the purpose of my comments I hope you will think of the superlatives used about Jim Gardner with the full value of their meaning. He is clearly Shreveport's 'first citizen'. That truth does not, nor should not diminish any other person, for there are truly others in this community whose contributions have been grand. But Jim Gardner has been a giant in our midst.

"He was the rare combination of theoretician and practitioner. His keen mind developed the ideals to fullness on the frontlines of politics as a legislator, mayor and city councilman. He is a historian, writer, and scholar. He is a devoted husband and father.

"But most of all he has been two things: a thinker and a city's conscience. That fine mind seems to always be alive and vibrant with new thought, new questions, new clarity. It has been the architect of much of the progress of the last three decades in Shreveport. It has been the sounding board against which the ideas of many others have been tested..."

At the time of his death, Gardner was a member of the Broadmoor United Methodist Church in Shreveport. An active Methodist layman, he taught Sunday school for thirty-five years. As a former member of the First United Methodist Church in Shreveport, he from 1961-1962 was the chairman of the church administrative board. Ann Gardner is Episcopalian.[1]

Gardner was a member of the large Shreveport Rotary International and the Shreveport Committee of One Hundred, a civic improvement group. His civic awards included Young Man of the Year (1954), "Mr. Shreveport" (Optimist Club, 1979), Shreveport Bar Association Liberty Bell Award, Shreveport Chamber of Commerce Business Leader of the Year, Community Council Paul M. Brown Humanitarian Award, and the Brotherhood Humanitarian Award from the National Conference of Christians and Jews.[1]

Police headquarters named for Gardner[edit]

On May 30, 2008, the Shreveport police headquarters, the former City hall and the former Confederate Memorial Medical Center (or Charity Hospital) buildings at Texas Avenue and Murphy Street, was renamed the James C. Gardner Building. In the dedication ceremonies, Mayor Cedric Glover hailed Gardner's "wisdom, vision, dedication, and commitment to the city. We have roads that go north and south and east and west and loops that go around." Glover said that the highway system is the fruition of the city master plan which Gardner developed a half century earlier that has made possible the major highways of the area, including the Clyde Fant Parkway, Interstate 20, and Interstate Loop 220.[2]

As a state legislator, Gardner had authored the bill which shifted the Charity Hospital building from state to municipal control. As mayor, he pushed for a bond election for new construction on the site. Gardner also served on the board for Charity Hospital, as had his grandfather, James Creswell, two generations earlier. The impetus to rename the building after Gardner was pushed by former State Representative Forrest Dunn, the retired curator of the Louisiana State Exhibit Building Museum in Shreveport.[2]

In opening remarks at the dedication, Gardner noted that his publisher, Sarah Hudson-Pierce, placed a copy of Volume II of his memoirs into the hands of Forrest Dunn, who subsequently pushed for passage of the bill to have the building renamed in Gardner's honor.)

Death[edit]

Though he overcame heart disease, Gardner, like his first wife, Mary Ella, died of cancer in Willis- Knighton Pierremont Medical Center in Shreveport. He was eighty-six. Services were held on August 30, 2010, at Gardner's home congregation, Broadmoor United Methodist Church, with pastor Conrad Edwards officiating. He was interred beside Mary Ella at Forest Park East Cemetery in Shreveport.[1]

An only child, Gardner was survived by his second wife, Mary Ann Gardner; daughter, Ellen Gardner Caverlee and husband, Shreveport attorney Samuel Caverlee; son, James C. Gardner, II, and wife Sharon, all of Shreveport; stepdaughters, Martha Elizabeth Hannigan and husband Michael Edward Hannigan of Shreveport; Margaret Welsh Clausen and husband Steven O'Neal Clausen of Medford, Oregon, and Amye Wren Wilson and husband Stephen Michael Wilson of Prosper, Texas.[1]

James Gardner, II, known as "Cres" Gardner ran in 1987 as a Republican candidate for a seat on the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education. He was defeated by the Democrat Dorothy Smith of Springhill, 74-18 percent.[3]

Gardner's grandchildren are John Gardner Caverlee and wife Amy of Dallas, Texas; Dr. James Buchanan Caverlee and wife Sherry of College Station, Texas; James Creswell Gardner, III, and wife Marcie of New Orleans; Dr. Megan Elizabeth Gardner of Shreveport; Michael Wait Gardner of Shreveport; Ryan Hannigan of Dallas; Austin Hannigan of Shreveport; Gretchen Wren King of Fayetteville, Georgia; Craig Clausen of Frisco, Texas, and Olivia Ann Wilson of Prosper, Texas. Gardner was further survived by nine great-grandchildren.[1]

Pallbearers were his grandchildren. Honorary pallbears included former State Senator Jackson B. Davis, former Mayor John Brennan Hussey, businessmen Horace R. Ladymon, Mandel C. Selber, Jr., and John D. Caruthers, and Donald Webb, former president of Centenary College, all of Shreveport.[1]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o James C. Gardner obituary, Shreveport Times, August 29, 2010
  2. ^ a b Adam Kealoha Causey, "Police headquarters renamed Gardner Building", Shreveport Times, May 31, 2008
  3. ^ Minden Press-Herald, October 26, 1987, p. 1
Political offices
Preceded by
Edwin Ford Hunter, Jr.
Member of the Louisiana House of Representatives from Caddo Parish (at-large)

James Creswell Gardner, I
1952–1954

Succeeded by
Frank Fulco
Preceded by
Clyde Edward Fant, Sr.
Mayor of Shreveport, Louisiana

James Creswell Gardner, I
1954–1958

Succeeded by
Clyde Edward Fant, Sr.
Preceded by
New position
Member of the Shreveport City Council (District B)

James Creswell Gardner, I
1978–1982

Succeeded by
Dee Peterson