Arthur C. Watson
|Arthur Chopin Watson|
|Louisiana State Representative from Natchitoches Parish|
|Preceded by||W. Peyton Cunningham
|Succeeded by||Sylvan Friedman
December 15, 1909|
Natchitoches, Louisiana, USA
|Died||November 15, 1984(aged 74)|
|Resting place||Catholic Cemetery in Natchitoches|
|Spouse(s)||Marion Eugenia "Gene" Hickman Watson|
|Relations||Eugene P. Watson (brother)|
|Alma mater||St. Mary's High School
Arthur Chopin Watson (December 15, 1909 – November 15, 1984) was an attorney, state legislator, civic leader, philanthropist, and chairman of the Democratic Party of Louisiana from 1968 to 1976. He was afflicted with polio in infancy and lost the use of both legs, and his mother died when he was only seven. However, his zest for living gave rise to his nickname "Speedy."
Watson was born in Natchitoches to Arthur William Watson (1877 – 1932) and the former Marie Eugenie Chopin (1879 – 1917). In 1926, at the age of sixteen, he was the valedictorian of the Roman Catholic St. Mary's High School in Natchitoches. In 1930, Watson graduated magna cum laude from the Catholic Spring Hill College in Mobile, Alabama, which was one of the first southern colleges to desegregate.
Thereafter, Watson graduated first in his class in 1933 from the Tulane University Law School, from which he received his LL.B. degree. He was a member of the Order of the Coif and served on the student board of governors of the Tulane Law Review. He was a member of various academic and social fraternities.
Watson returned to Natchitoches to establish a law practice with Judge Denis (// də-NEES) Joseph Hyams. Over time, the firm became known as Watson, Murchison, Crews & Arthur. Watson quickly rose to prominence in local and state affairs. He was the director of the Natchitoches Parish Chamber of Commerce from 1936 – 1940. He was a director of the Exchange Bank, which occupies the tallest building in Natchitoches. Watson was active in the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks and was the "exalted ruler" of the group from 1938 – 1939. He was president of the Louisiana Association of Young Men's Business Clubs from 1942 to 1943.
Watson was the Natchitoches city attorney from 1946 to 1973; from 1960 to 1962, he was the president of the City Attorney's Association of Louisiana. He was president of the Natchitoches Parish Bar Association from 1938 to 1945. His career slowed in the late 1940s from an attack of Guillain-Barré syndrome, which deprived him of the use of both arms. He recovered and served on the board of directors of the Louisiana State Bar Association in 1955. He helped to create a local government section through his service in the bar association.
In 1936, Watson ran unsuccessfully for the Louisiana House of Representatives on an intraparty ticket opposing the Long faction. Two incumbents, W. Peyton Cunningham and Leon Friedman, were renominated and reelected at large. There was no single-member representative for Natchitoches Parish until 1964.
Watson was elected to the legislature, alongside John O. Williams, for a single four-year term in 1940, when Sam Houston Jones of Lake Charles defeated Earl Kemp Long for the governorship. One of his two House successors was Sylvan Friedman, a Jewish farmer and large landowner in Natchitoches Parish, who was from 1952 to 1972 a member of the Louisiana State Senate.
Though Natchitoches Parish is a neighbor to the Long stronghold of Winn Parish, Watson was identified with anti-Long elements within the state's dominant Democratic Party. Two of Watson's House colleagues who later make unsuccessful races for governor were William J. "Bill" Dodd, then in Allen Parish, and future New Orleans Mayor deLesseps Story "Chep" Morrison, Sr. Another colleague was William Hodding Carter, I, of Hammond in Tangipahoa Parish, whose namesake son and grandson became influential journalists. Still another House member at the time was future Agriculture Commissioner Dave L. Pearce of West Carroll Parish.
Watson was appointed to the Louisiana State Democratic Central Committee in 1940 and served on the panel for the following twenty-six years. He was vice-chairman from 1960 to 1964 and chairman for eight years from 1968 to 1976. He was a delegate to the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago. Watson, with the support of party conservative leader Leander Perez, succeeded Edward M. Carmouche, a lawyer from Lake Charles as chairman. Carmouche had been elected in December 1967, when C. H. "Sammy" Downs of Alexandria resigned the post. In that fight the conservative Democrats had been led by W. L. "Jack" Howard, the mayor of Monroe. During Watson's chairmanship, Louisiana voters rejected the Democratic presidential nominee, Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey, a former student at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge. Instead, the state supported former Governor George C. Wallace of Alabama, running on his temporary American Independent Party ticket.
In 1972, Watson was party chairman during an intense fight by conservatives, led by the colorful attorney Captan Jack Wyly of Lake Providence, and the nationalist wing of the party, represented by Leon Irwin, III, of New Orleans for the position of national committeeman, which was vacated after eight years by J. Marshall Brown of New Orleans. Irwin, who carried the support of Governor-elect Edwin Edwards, Mayor Moon Landrieu, and AFL-CIO President Victor Bussie, defeated Wyly, 69-50, in balloting by the Democratic State Central Committee. Wyly's forces won only in North Louisiana and the Florida parishes.
Watson issued a wrong opinion in the summer of 1972 when U.S. Senator Allen J. Ellender of Houma died in office amid a Democratic primary campaign for reelection to a seventh term. Watson first said that the primary filing period must be reopened so that other candidates might enter. Ellender had only one serious challenger, then state Senator and former gubernatorial candidate J. Bennett Johnston, Jr., of Shreveport. As a result, unable to file as a Democrat, former Governor John J. McKeithen of Columbia unsuccessfully sought in the general election Ellender's seat as an Independent against the victorious Johnston and the defeated Republican choice, Ben C. Toledano of New Orleans. In a general election, the party leadership may replace a nominee who dies, but there is no provision for reopening primary filings if any candidate, whether the incumbent or not, dies during the campaign cycle.
In 1972, Louisiana for only the third time in its history rejected the national Democratic ticket to support the re-election of Republican Richard M. Nixon. However, it returned to its traditionally Democratic moorings in 1976 to support former Georgia Governor Jimmy Carter, as Watson was stepping down as state party chairman.
Preservationist and civic leader
Watson was active for some three decades in various drainage districts, including the Cane River Levee and Drainage District. He was the principal force behind the protection of Natchitoches Parish from the devastation caused by periodic flooding of the Cane River and its dominant stream, the Red River.
A businessman and philanthropist, Watson was involved in various aspects of the heritage of Louisiana. He worked to support the Caroline Dormon Nature Preserve in Natchitoches Parish, named for Caroline Dormon, a naturalist and historical preservationist. He served on the Melrose Commission, which oversaw the restoration of a plantation founded in the colonial era by a family of freed slaves. He helped to secure a National Historic Landmark designation for the site in 1975.
In the middle 1970s, Watson supported the Louisiana Outdoor Drama Association, which sponsored the since defunct play Louisiana Cavalier, a dramatization of the early settlement of Natchitoches, the oldest city in Louisiana.
Watson chaired the drive to construct a modern hospital in Natchitoches Parish. He also worked to construct new structures for St. Mary's elementary and high schools.
He was an officer of several banks and realty development firms, including the Exchange Bank and Trust Company, which was formerly headed by his father. After 1967, he served as the chairman of the Exchange Bank.
Watson's brother, Eugene Payne Watson, was the head librarian at Northwestern State University in Natchitoches. After his death, the NSU library was named in his honor. A national library science scholarship was also founded in Eugene Watson's name.
Watson funded scholarships and other awards for outstanding students at Northwestern in music and library science and was a benefactor of the Natchitoches-Northwestern Symphony Society. The Arthur Chopin Watson Scholarship for Excellence in Academic Accommodation was established in 1999 in his memory. It is given to a high-achieving junior or senior student who participates in the disability services program of the college.
He married the former Marion Eugenia "Gene" Hickman, and they had three daughters.
Watson is interred at Catholic Cemetery in Natchitoches.
- "Arthur Chopin Watson", A Dictionary of Louisiana Biography, Vol. 2 (1988), pp. 827–828, publication of the Louisiana Historical Association
- "Membership in the Louisiana House of Representatives, 1812-2012" (PDF). legis.la.gov. Retrieved January 19, 2012.
- Showdown Set Today on Loyalists, Conservatives", Minden Press-Herald, December 28, 1967, p. 1
- Biloxi Daily Herald, December 24, 1966, p. 14
- "Irwin Is Named Louisiana Democratic Committeeman", Minden Press-Herald, February 20, 1972, p. 1
- Minden Press-Herald, August 2, 1972, p. 1
- "Eugene P. Watson Memorial Library". louisiana.hometownlocator.com. Retrieved January 19, 2012.
- "What Is an Endowed Scholarship?". northwesternalumni.com. Retrieved January 19, 2012.
- Arthur C. Watson at Find a Grave
|Louisiana State Representative from Natchitoches Parish
Arthur Chopin Watson