Al Ater

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Al Ater
Louisiana State Representative for
District 21 (now Concordia, East Carroll, Madison, and Tensas parishes)
In office
Preceded byWilliam B. Atkins
Succeeded byBryant Hammett
Acting Louisiana Secretary of State
In office
July 2005 – November 2006
Preceded byFox McKeithen
Succeeded byJay Dardenne
Personal details
Alan Ray Ater

(1953-12-15)December 15, 1953
Decatur, Illinois, USA
DiedMay 21, 2017(2017-05-21) (aged 63)
Houston, Texas
Resting placeNatchez City Cemetery in
Natchez, Mississippi
Political partyDemocratic
Spouse(s)(1) Divorced
(2) Susie Beard Ater (married c. 1985-2017, his death)
  • Whitney Lauren Ater
  • Thomas Alan Ater
  • Elliott Andrew Ater
ParentsDonald Edward and Ruth LaVonne Chapman Ater
ResidenceFerriday, Concordia Parish, Louisiana, United States
Alma mater
OccupationFarmer; Businessman

Alan Ray Ater (December 15, 1953 – May 21, 2017), known as Al Ater, was a farmer and businessman from Ferriday, Louisiana, who served from 1984 to 1992 as a Democratic member of the Louisiana House of Representatives for District 21 in the eastern portion of his state.[1] He served as interim secretary of state from 2005 through November 2006, in which capacity he was praised for his handling of the New Orleans mayoral primary in early 2006, when the city was still disrupted from the effects of Hurricane Katrina.

Early life and family[edit]

A native of Decatur in Macon County in central Illinois, Ater was the youngest of five children of Donald Edward Ater (1923–1974)[2] and the former Ruth Lavonne Chapman (December 16, 1920 – October 28, 2004), both Illinois natives. His four older siblings are Marcia Kay, Donald Willard, Lynette, and Edward William Ater.

Lavonne Chapman Ater attended Lindenwood College for Women in St. Charles, Missouri. The Aters married, farmed in the area about Cisco, Illinois, and owned International Harvester dealerships in Kankanee and Oreana, Illinois.[3] In the middle 1950s, the Aters moved to Tallulah, where Ruth became involved in the American National Cattlewomen's Organization, formerly the CowBelles. She was both the Madison Parish and the statewide president of the organization. In 1975, as the national CowBelles president, she organized and chartered groups in thirteen states and spoke at state conventions in thirty-nine states. She headed the committee that wrote the history of the organization. Mrs. Ater was one of three women inducted into the Louisiana Spur Club for contributions to the cattle industry. In 1957, the Aters purchased the Coola Coosa Plantation on Lake St. John, an oxbow lake on the Mississippi River and moved to Ferriday, where they founded and operated Ater Warehouse, Inc., and the Don Ater Chevrolet dealership.[3] After the death of her first husband Donald Ater, Ruth in 1979 married Fred Joseph Wedam (1916–1991) of Klamath Falls, Oregon, a veterinarian and a member of the Klamath County School District board of directors.[4] Lavonne lived in Klamath Falls until after Wedam's death, when she returned to Ferriday for her final years.[3] [5]

Al Ater attended Ferriday High School for three years and graduated in 1971 from the private Huntington High School in Ferriday, which had been founded the previous year after the public schools were desegregated. He then attended Northwestern State University in Natchitoches.[6]

Public office[edit]

First elected at the age of twenty-nine in the 1983 nonpartisan blanket primary, Ater filled the House seat vacated by William B. Atkins, a freshman Democrat from Jonesville in Catahoula Parish. Atkins instead unseated Democratic State Senator Dan Richey of Ferriday. Ater was unopposed for a second term in 1987 but did not run in the primary held in October 1991. He was succeeded by fellow Democrat Bryant Hammett, an engineer, also from Ferriday in Concordia Parish.

In 2001, Ater became the first assistant in the office of Fox McKeithen, a Republican and friend since their legislative days, then serving as Louisiana Secretary of State. Ater was influential in merging the former elections department into the secretary of state's office.[7]

In 2004, Ater joined the Department of Insurance under commissioner J. Robert Wooley, a Democrat. In March 2005, he returned to McKeithen's office as first assistant. Four months later, upon McKeithen's untimely death from an accident earlier in the year, Ater was appointed as the interim secretary of state.[7]

Effects of Hurricane Katrina[edit]

As secretary of state, Ater was called upon to monitor the municipal elections in New Orleans held some eight months after Hurricane Katrina, when the city was still struggling to recover and had many former residents living elsewhere. The primary election was to have been conducted on February 4, 2006. Newspaperman Sam Hanna, Jr., of the Ouachita Citizen said that Ater

oversaw probably the cleanest mayor's election in modern times in New Orleans' long, fabled history. ... He mowed down the political establishment on both sides of the aisle, which tried in vain to manipulate the election process in the Crescent City for its own selfish reasons. Yes, Ater stood out as a leader with a backbone among a host of local and state officials, who, quite frankly, have appeared spineless throughout the catastrophe caused by Katrina.[8]

Former Secretary of State James H. "Jim" Brown, also a Ferriday native, said he believed the elections could have been held on February 4 and that the delays sought by Ater were unnecessary. Brown said polling locations could be moved as needed and that voting machines can be located elsewhere as required. Out-of-town voters can still file for absentee ballots, Brown said.[9]

As secretary of state, Ater questioned a provision of Louisiana law which had required a voter who registered by mail to cast his ballot in person at least once before he could file an absentee ballot. "I could see the headlines across America right now, They'll say it's another thing that Louisiana can't handle on its own," Ater said.[10] The law had been intended to protect against voter fraud, but Ater said the hurricane had temporarily changed the dynamics of voting.[10]

Ater's handling of the election was honored by the Louisiana chapter of Common Cause. Also feted was State Senato] Walter Boasso of St. Bernard Parish, who consolidated the actions of the affected levee boards following the hurricane.[11]

Ater served as secretary of state until November 2006, when he was succeeded by the moderate Republican Jay Dardenne, now the state commissioner of administration. Dardenne won the special election to fill the vacancy left by McKeithen's death. Ater was not a candidate in that special election.

After leaving the office of secretary of state, Ater remained a contributor to Democratic candidates in 2008 for several campaigns: for then U.S. Senator Mary Landrieu, in Louisiana's 4th congressional district for the unsuccessful candidate, Paul Carmouche of Shreveport, for the U.S. senatorial candidate Ronnie Musgrove of Mississippi, and for the defeated Don Cazayoux in the Baton Rouge-based 6th congressional district.[12]


Al Ater farmed corn, cotton, and soybeans through his Lakeland Planting Company.[13] He served on the board of the Concordia Parish Farm Bureau and Catalyst Energy in Vidalia, the Concordia Parish seat of government.[7] He also farmed about Waterproof in southern Tensas Parish.[14]

Personal life and death[edit]

Ater lived on Lake St. John near Ferriday with his second wife, the former Susie Beard (born 1958), a pharmacist originally from Vidalia. He has three children, Whitney Lauren Ater (born 1978) in California from his first marriage; and, with Susie, Thomas Alan (born 1987), and Elliott Andrew Ater (born 1989), both of Ferriday. Thomas manages the family farming operation, and Elliott attends Louisiana State University. Ater died in Houston Hospice in Houston, Texas on May 21, 2017 from brain cancer.[15][16]

After services at the Jefferson Street United Methodist Church in Natchez, Mississippi, on May 26, 2017, Ater was interred at Natchez City Cemetery, also the resting place of his parents.[6]

Ater's legacy[edit]

Sam Hanna, Jr., son of the late publisher Sam Hanna, Sr., commented on why Ater walked away from

a promising political career more than 20 years in the making [to] head home to Concordia Parish--to Ferriday--to farm some 6,000 acres of land and tend to his other business interests? Well, Ater's no fool, and he recognized a dead-end job when he saw it in serving as secretary of state, especially on the heels of his performance during one of Louisiana's darkest moments. It's always best to leave while you're on top.[8]

In 2009, Ater was among inductees honored in the Louisiana Political Museum and Hall of Fame in Winnfield.[17]


  1. ^ "Membership in the Louisiana House of Representatives, 1812-2008" (PDF). Louisiana House of Representatives. August 2007. Archived from the original (PDF) on December 2, 2007. Retrieved May 23, 2017.
  2. ^ "Descendants of Clement Minor and his wives, Frances Burcham and Martha Wellman". Thomas Minor Society. Retrieved May 23, 2017.
  3. ^ a b c Sevier, Richard P. (January 17, 2007). "Obituary of Ruth Lavonne Chapman Ater Wedam". Retrieved May 23, 2017.
  4. ^ "Fred J. Wedam". Retrieved May 24, 2017.
  5. ^ "Lavonne Chapman Ater". Retrieved May 24, 2017.
  6. ^ a b "Alan Ray Ater obituary". The Baton Rouge Advocate. Retrieved May 24, 2017.
  7. ^ a b c "Our Campaigns: Ater, Al". Our Campaigns. Retrieved May 23, 2017.
  8. ^ a b Jr., Sam Hanna (June 20, 2006). "What's Big Al to do next?". The Ouachita Citizen. Archived from the original on October 19, 2013. Retrieved May 23, 2017.
  9. ^ "Former La. Secretary of State Jim Brown scoffs at Al Ater's". 2005. Archived from the original on January 12, 2008. Retrieved December 23, 2009.
  10. ^ a b "Al Ater: Courts may take over election if law unchanged". Katrina Coverage. February 6, 2006. Retrieved May 23, 2017.
  11. ^ Zimmerman, Dave (September 2006). "Letter to our friends" (PDF). Common Cause. Archived from the original (PDF) on October 5, 2006. Retrieved May 23, 2017.
  12. ^ "Al Ater: Political Campaign Contributions, 2008". Retrieved May 23, 2017.
  13. ^ "Al Ater". Linkedin. Archived from the original on 2012-09-12. Retrieved May 23, 2017.
  14. ^ "Waterproof, Louisiana, Political Contributions by Individuals". Retrieved May 23, 2017.
  15. ^ "Al Ater, ex-lawmaker, secretary of state, dies at age 63". The Times. May 22, 2017. Retrieved May 23, 2017.
  16. ^ Ballard, Mark (May 21, 2017). "Al Ater, interim secretary of state during 2005 hurricanes, dies in Houston". The Advocate. Retrieved May 23, 2017.
  17. ^ "Political Hall of Fame: Al Ater". Louisiana Political Museum. Retrieved December 23, 2009.
Louisiana House of Representatives
Preceded by
William B. Atkins
Louisiana State Representative for District 21
(Concordia, East Carroll, Madison, and Tensas parishes)

Succeeded by
Bryant Hammett
Political offices
Preceded by
Fox McKeithen
Acting Louisiana Secretary of State
Succeeded by
Jay Dardenne