Cecil R. Blair

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Cecil Ray Blair
Louisiana State Senator from Rapides Parish
In office
1960–1964
Preceded by C. H. "Sammy" Downs
Succeeded by George Ray Lee
Louisiana State Senator from Rapides Parish
In office
1966–1976
Preceded by George Ray Lee
Succeeded by Ned Randolph
Louisiana State Representative from Rapides Parish
In office
1952–1956
Preceded by

At-large delegation:
T. C. Brister
W. George Bowdon, Jr.

Lawrence T. Fuglaar
Succeeded by

At-large delegation:
Ben F. Holt
Robert J. Munson

Lloyd George Teekell
Personal details
Born (1916-04-02)April 2, 1916
Morgantown, Mississippi, U.S.
Died July 6, 2001(2001-07-06) (aged 85)
Houston, Texas, U.S.
Resting place Greenwood Memorial Park in Pineville, Louisiana
Political party Democratic
Spouse(s) Virginia Susan Ruth "Susie" George Blair (1917–2005)
Children four
Residence Alexandria and Lecompte in Rapides Parish, Louisiana
Alma mater

Sicily Island High School
Louisiana Tech University

Louisiana State University
Religion Southern Baptist
Military service
Service/branch United States Navy
Battles/wars Pacific Theater of Operations of World War II

Cecil Ray Blair (April 2, 1916 – July 6, 2001) was a Rapides Parish farmer and businessman who was a Democratic member of both houses of the Louisiana State Legislature during the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s. He served in the Louisiana House of Representatives from 1952 to 1956. His service in the Louisiana State Senate came in two segments, 1960–1964 and 1966-1976.

He lived, first, in the Paradise Community north of the Red River in northern Rapides Parish and, later, on Jackson Street Extension in Alexandria. He is most associated, however, with his farm near Lecompte (pronounced la-COUNT), a community located south of Alexandria, the Rapides Parish seat of government and the largest city in central Louisiana.

Early years, education, military, family[edit]

Blair was the third of eight children born in a sharecropping family to Alabama native Homer Franklin Blair (1889–1956) and the Mississippi native, the former Hersie Elnora Pearson (1888–1979), in tiny Morgantown in Marion County near Columbia in southwestern Mississippi. Blair grew up in Sicily Island, a small community in Catahoula Parish northeast of Alexandria.

After he graduated in 1934 from Sicily Island High School, 18-year-old Cecil Blair, with virtually no money, went to Ruston, the seat of Lincoln Parish to attend Louisiana Tech University. He worked his way through college and completed a Bachelor of Science degree in Biology in 1938. At Tech, he met the love of his life, the former Virginia Susan Ruth "Susie" George (March 4, 1917 - May 1, 2005). After graduation, Cecil decided to enroll in graduate school at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge to procure a Master of Science degree in his chosen field of entomology, and Susie joined him at LSU to complete her studies.

Susie Blair, the daughter of the Reverend Albert George and the former Ruth Hoffpauir, grew up in Methodist parsonages throughout the state. She was born in the village of Bonita in Morehouse Parish in northeast Louisiana. Susie was an author of two children's books, which focused on life around the Blair farm. The book Easter Pony received international acclaim and was listed as one of the year's best books by the American Library Association in the year it was published. She also had unrealized talent for art, which particularly showed up in the next generation through her older son and younger daughter.

The couple moved to Alexandria in 1940. They had four children: Rebecca "Becky" Blair Tisdale (born 1942), Richard "Nippy" Blair (born 1943), Robert Blair (born 1948), all of Alexandria, and Jane Blair Couvillon (1950-1988: a cancer victim). Becky is a retired teacher and the widow of history professor Garry Lee Tisdale, a native of Tyler, Texas. Tisdale began teaching at Louisiana State University at Alexandria in 1966. He died of brain cancer in 2000 at the age of fifty-six, and LSUA subsequently honored him with the naming of Garry Tisdale Drive on the campus. Robert "Bobby" Blair runs the Blair farm and Blair's former vegetable stand called the "Old Gray Mule", a favorite gathering place for Louisiana politicos off U.S. Highway 71 near the farm. It was at the Old Gray Mule that Blair developed his skills as a raconteur. He dubbed his farm "The Sweet Corn Capital of Louisiana." Nippy Blair is a well-known regional artist and the building superintendent of Emmanuel Baptist Church in downtown Alexandria.

In 1944, Blair, though he had two small children, enlisted in the United States Navy and served in the Pacific Theater of Operations for the remainder of World War II.

Legislative highlights[edit]

Blair was affiliated with the anti-Long faction of his state's party, principally because he loathed corruption and favoritism in government.

As a House member, Blair supported farmers who needed open range lands. During the administration of Governor Robert F. Kennon, Blair authored the bill to fence the highways to keep roaming cattle off the roads. He worked to obtain the relocation to Alexandria of St. Mary's Training School for the handicapped. In the Senate, Blair pushed for the creation of Buhlow Lake adjacent to the Red River in Pineville, where popular boat races are held. In the House multi-district, Blair served with two colleagues from Rapides Parish, Lloyd George Teekell and H. N. Goff. In effect, Blair replaced W. George Bowdon, Jr., who left the legislature after a single term to run successfully for mayor of Alexandria in 1953.

Early in 1955, a dispute broke out at the 1,150-patient Louisiana Colony and Training School at nearby Kingsville north of Pineville. Willie E. Kees, Jr., a Pineville businessman had resigned as mayor in 1952 to head the school. When Kees was named superintendent in December 1954, a dispute broke out with William P. Hurder, the clinical director who was both a psychologist and a physician. The two had previously shared authority. Kees' promotion touched off charges of "politics" in his selection. Blair defended the Kees selection, but because of the controversy, Kees resigned from the school to return to the private sector.[1][2]

Blair worked for the establishment of the original two-year LSUA, which is located near his Lecompte farm in south Rapides Parish. Years later, the school was given four-year status, a breakthrough which came only a few weeks before Blair's death.

Blair was known for his constituent services and his efforts to improve Louisiana Highway 1 between Shreveport and Baton Rouge. He also supported highway beautification and personally planted flowers along U.S. Highway 71 near his farm. He opposed having the office of state superintendent of education be made appointive, having explaiend that would prefer the judgment of three million voters, rather than a small group deciding who should hold the top post in education.

Blair first ran for the state Senate in 1956 but was defeated in the Earl Kemp Long landslide by the Longite choice, Crawford Hugh "Sammy" Downs, of Alexandria, the son of a former Rapides Parish sheriff. On December 5, 1959, Blair unseated Downs in the Democratic primary.[3] In 1964, Blair was beaten by George Ray Lee, who died in office midway through his term. Lee was the son of former Senator George W. Lee, who filled the seat from 1936 to 1940 and the brother of later Pineville municipal and state court Judge Richard E. "Dick" Lee (1936-2016). In the 1966 special election to replace Lee, Blair waged a victorious comeback. He won again in 1968 and 1972. From 1969 to 1972, he and Sylvan Friedman of Natchitoches Parish represented a two-member district that included Grant Parish.

In his last Senate term, Blair was also elected on a nonpartisan ballot as a delegate to the 1973 Louisiana Constitutional Convention, which drafted the state's current framework of government, as approved by voters in the spring of 1974.

The election of 1971[edit]

In the 1971 closed primary, the last held for Louisiana legislative races, Blair was forced into a second primary by Pineville Councilman at-large and former Mayor Floyd W. Smith, Jr. The third-place candidate, future Alexandria Finance and Utilities Commissioner Arnold Jack Rosenthal, threw his support to Smith. Blair, however, defeated Smith by some 2,000 votes. It was something of a Long v. anti-Long battle in that Smith's mother was a Long. There was no Republican opposition in the general election held on February 1, 1972; so Blair secured his fourth and final term in the new single-member Senate District 29.

Defeat in 1975[edit]

After a total of eighteen years in both legislative chambers, Blair was unseated n the 1975 jungle primary by then State Representative and later Alexandria Mayor Edward Gordon "Ned" Randolph, Jr. Thereafter, he failed in comeback attempts for his former Senate seat in 1979, 1983, and 1987. While Randolph unseated Blair, in the same election, then Democrat John W. "Jock" Scott won Randolph's House seat. Randolph and Scott purported to be "new" politicians not molded to failures of the past. It was the same kind of environment which a year later enabled former Georgia Governor Jimmy Carter to win the presidency. In fact, Randolph and Scott comanaged Carter's Rapides Parish campaign in 1976.

Four later campaigns[edit]

Blair was never reconciled to the election of Randolph, who had been a Bolton High School classmate of Blair's two older children. He tried to dislodge Randolph in the 1979 primary and failed. In 1983, Blair attempted again. In a surprise of sorts, Randolph was unseated, not by Blair, but by Pineville businessman William Joseph "Joe" McPherson, Jr., later of Woodworth. Randolph led in the initial balloting with 13,501 votes (38.4 percent) to McPherson's 11,032 ballots (31.4 percent). Blair received 6,096 votes (17.4 percent), and Alexandria Mayor John K. Snyder, in fourth place, received only 4,496 votes (12.8 percent). In the runoff—officially the Louisiana general election—McPherson won, 16,360 votes (53.9 percent) to Randolph's 13,973 (46.1 percent).

In 1987, Blair attempted to regain the Senate seat. He and outgoing state Representative Jock Scott, then a convert to the Republican Party, challenged McPherson, who had the support of organized labor. McPherson polled 16,950 (51 percent) in the primary and hence retained the seat outright. Scott trailed with 12,346 votes (37 percent). Blair netted 4,245 votes (13 percent). In 1995, Blair once more attempted to regain the Senate seat but failed to make the general election runoff in a field of seven candidates. The Senate seat was won by the Reverend B.G. Dyess, the retired Rapides Parish voter registrar and a Baptist clergyman who campaigned against gambling. Dyess served for four years and, because of his wife's health, did not seek a second term in 1999. McPherson made an unsuccessful bid for Public Service Commissioner in 1995 and lost to Dale Sittig of Eunice. McPherson returned to the Senate in 2000 and easily won a third consecutive term in the jungle primary held on October 20, 2007.

Blair's legacy and obituary[edit]

Blair put his entomological skills to use with his successful Blair Laboratories pesticide business, which he operated for many years in Alexandria. Daughter Rebecca Tisdale said that her father was too independent to work for others; so he chose self-employment in farming and pesticides. She said that her father struggled as a youth and was dismissed as "white trash" because of his poverty. Such obstacles made him exceptionally determined to succeed: he was the kind of man who could not easily accept rejection. His life story fits the Horatio Alger mode. Ironically, he would years later serve in the Senate with another Catahoula Parish native, the anti-Long J.C. "Sonny" Gilbert of Sicily Island.

Blair was active in community affairs, having been a former president of the Alexandria-Pineville Chamber of Commerce and the Kiwanis Club. In the late 1950s, while he was returning from church with his family when the Blairs resided in the Paradise community, he once saved from drowning two young men that he saw floundering in the Red River from an overturned boat.

Blair, who had smoked cigars since he was a teenager, died of heart failure at St. Luke's Episcopal Hospital in Houston. He had undergone open-heart surgery for a valve replacement. While he appeared to have recovered from the surgery itself, his systems shut down thereafter. Politicos from throughout central Louisiana attended the funeral, including legendary attorney Camille F. Gravel, Jr., Rapides Parish Sheriff William Earl Hilton, then Alexandria Mayor Randolph, who had ended Blair's Senate career, and District Attorney James Crawford "Jam" Downs, the son of Blair's old rival C. H. "Sammy" Downs.

The Reverend Larry Taylor, pastor of Blair's Emmanuel Baptist Church, said that the first time he met Blair he thought that he had seen "a figure who had stepped out of the pages of southern literature." Taylor lamented that "Even someone with a heart as big as Cecil R. Blair's couldn't keep going forever. Cecil had a big heart that finally gave out."

Cecil and Susie Blair are interred at Greenwood Memorial Park in Pineville.

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Hurder takes post as colony superintendent". louisdl.louislibraries.org. January 19, 1955. Retrieved July 24, 2015. 
  2. ^ "State Colony Resignation Brings Rift". Lake Charles American-Press. January 19, 1955. p. 2. Retrieved July 24, 2015. 
  3. ^ The Shreveport Times, December 6, 1959, p. 1
  • "Membership of the Louisiana State Senate since 1880" (Baton Rouge: Secretary of State)
  • "Membership of the Louisiana House of Representatives since 1880" (Baton Rouge: Secretary of State)
  • "Louisiana Election Statistics, 1983 and 1987" (Baton Rouge: Secretary of State)
  • Alexandria Daily Town Talk, April 16, 2000; July 8, 2001; May 30, 2005
  • Steve Bannister, "Farewell: Cecil Blair Was an Original", Alexandria Daily Town Talk, July 11, 2001, p. 1
  • Lucille Blair of Deville, Louisiana, Blair family records
Louisiana House of Representatives
Preceded by
W. George Bowdon, Jr.
T. C. Brister
Lawrence T. Fuglaar
(at-large members)
Louisiana State Representative for Rapides Parish

Cecil Ray Blair (alongside James R. Eubank, Lloyd George Teekell, and H. N. Goff)
1952–1956

Succeeded by
Ben F. Holt
Lloyd George Teekell
Robert J. Munson
(at-large members)
Louisiana Senate
Preceded by
Crawford Hugh "Sammy" Downs
Louisiana State Senator for Rapides Parish

Cecil Ray Blair
1960–1964

Succeeded by
George Ray Lee
Preceded by
George Ray Lee
Louisiana State Senator for Rapides Parish and, starting 1972, District 29

Cecil Ray Blair
1966–1976

Succeeded by
Edward Gordon "Ned" Randolph, Jr.