Arthur C. Watson

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Arthur Chopin Watson​

Louisiana State Representative
for Natchitoches Parish​
In office
1940​ – 1944​
Preceded by W. Peyton Cunningham​

Leon Friedman​ (two members)

Succeeded by Sylvan Friedman

Numa T. Delouche​ (two members)


Born December 15, 1909​
Natchitoches, Louisiana, USA​
Died November 15, 1984 (aged 74)​
Resting place Catholic Cemetery in Natchitoches​
Political party Democrat
Spouse(s) Marion Eugenia "Gene" Hickman Watson​
Relations Eugene Payne Watson (brother)​
Children Marion W. Bienvenu

Saidee W. Newel
Eugenie Chopin ​

Alma mater St. Mary's High School (Natchitoches)

Spring Hill College (Alabama)
Tulane University Law School

Occupation Attorney
Religion Roman Catholic

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.

In infancy, Watson was afflicted with polio 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."[1]

Background

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.[1]

Thereafter, Watson graduated first in his class in 1933 from Tulane University Law School in New Orleans, 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.[1]

Career

Watson returned to Natchitoches to establish a law practice with Judge Denis (pronounced DE NEES) Joseph Hyams (1878-1954). 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 to 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 as the "exalted ruler" of the group from 1938 to 1939. He was president of the Louisiana Association of Young Men's Business Clubs from 1942 to 1943.[1]

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-Barre 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.[1]

Political activities

In 1936, Watson ran unsuccessfully for state representative on an intra-party ticket opposing the Long political 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.[2]

In 1940, Watson was elected to the legislature, alongside John O. Williams, for a single four-year term. In that same election cycle, Sam Houston Jones of Lake Charles defeated Earl Kemp Long for the governorship. One of his two House successors was Sylvan Friedman,[2] a Jewish farmer and large landowner in Natchez in Natchitoches Parish, who was from 1952 to 1972 a member of the 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 of Allen Parish, and future New Orleans Mayor deLesseps Story "Chep" Morrison, Sr. (1912-1964). 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 state Agriculture Commissioner Dave L. Pearce of West Carroll Parish.[2]

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.[1] With the support of conservative leader Leander Henry Perez, Sr. (1891-1969), of Plaquemines Parish, Watson succeeded the more liberal Edward Moss Carmouche, Sr. (1921-1990).[3] a lawyer from Lake Charles as the committee chairman. Carmouche had been elected in December 1967, when Crawford Hugh "Sammy" Downs of Alexandria, a former state senator, resigned the post. In that fight the conservative Democrats had been led by W. L. "Jack" Howard (1921-2004), then the mayor of Monroe.[4]

During Watson's chairmanship, Louisiana voters rejected the Democratic presidential nominee, Vice President Hubert Humphrey, a former student at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge. Instead, the state supported former Governor George Wallace of Alabama, running on his temporary American Independent Party ticket.​

1972 events

In 1972, Watson was party chairman during an intense fight by the conservative faction led by the colorful attorney Captan Jack Wyly of Lake Providence in East Carroll Parish, and the nationalist wing of the party, represented by Leon Irwin, III (died 2006), 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.[5]

In the summer of 1972, party chairman Watson issued a wrong opinion when U.S. Senator Allen J. Ellender of Houma in Terrebonne Parish 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, former 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 in Caldwell Parish unsuccessfully sought Ellender's seat in the general election as an Independent against the victorious Johnston and the defeated Republican choice, Ben C. Toledano, a former candidate for mayor 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.[6]

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.[1]

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 an 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 National Historic Landmark designation for the site in 1975.[1]

Watson chaired the drive to construct a modern hospital in Natchitoches Parish and 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. From 1967 until his death, he was the chairman of the Exchange Bank.[1]

Watson's brother, Eugene Payne Watson (1911-1964), was the head librarian at Northwestern State University in Natchitoches. After his death, the NSU library was named in his honor.[7] A national library science scholarship was 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. The scholarship is given to a high-achieving junior or senior student who participates in the disability services program of the college.[8]​​

Personal life

Watson was married to the former Marion Eugenia "Gene" Hickman (1910-2007), a nursing graduate of Touro Infirmary in New Orleans. She was a founding member of Natchitoches Service League, Natchitoches Parish Hospital Pink Ladies, and the Association for the Preservation of Historic Natchitoches. She was a member of the board of directors of the Exchange Bank of Natchitoches. She was a member at-large of the National Society of Colonial Dames of the State of Louisiana. The Watsons had three daughters, Marion Bienvenu and Saidee Newell of Natchitoches, and Eugenie Chopin, a long-term resident of Johannesburg, South Africa, who uses her father's middle name as her last name.[9]

The Watsons are interred at Catholic Cemetery in Natchitoches.​[9]

References

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 1.6 1.7 1.8 Watson, Arthur C.. Louisiana Historical Association. Retrieved on December 7, 2019.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Membership in the Louisiana House of Representatives, 1812-2020. Louisiana House of Representatives. Retrieved on December5 7, 2019.
  3. "Showdown Set Today on Loyalists, Conservatives," Minden Press-Herald, December 28, 1967, p. 1.
  4. Biloxi Daily Herald, December 24, 1966, p. 14.
  5. "Irwin Is Named Louisiana Democratic Committeeman", Minden Press-Herald, February 20, 1972, p. 1
  6. Minden Press-Herald, August 2, 1972, p. 1.
  7. Eugene P. Watson Memorial Library. louisiana.hometownlocator.com. Retrieved on December 8, 2019.
  8. What Is an Endowed Scholarship?. northwesternalumni.com. Retrieved on January 19, 2012; no longer on-line.
  9. 9.0 9.1 Obituary of Marion Eugenia Watson. meaningfulfunerals.net (August 1, 2007). Retrieved on December 7, 2019.

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