B. G. Dyess
|Bernice G. "B. G." Dyess|
Louisiana State Senator for
District 29 (Rapides Parish)
1996 – 2000
|Preceded by||Joe McPherson|
|Succeeded by||Joe McPherson|
|Born|| August 16, 1922|
Valentine Creek/Gardner community
Rapides Parish, Louisiana
|Died|| February 18, 2013 (aged 90)|
|Resting place||Calvary Baptist Church Cemetery in Gardner |
|Political party||Democrat / much later Republican|
|Spouse(s)|| (1) Ava Brister Dyess (married 1941–2005, her death)|
(2) Billie Whittington Dyess
|Children|| Seven children|
|Alma mater|| Oak Hill High School|
|Occupation||Christian minister; civil servant|
|Dyess was a strong advocate of prayer: Is prayer profitable? Is what we're doing here today profitable? We believe it is, or else we wouldn't be here today. My friends, prayer is profitable. |
Bernice G. Dyess, known as B. G. Dyess (August 16, 1922 – February 18, 2013), was for seventy-three years a Southern Baptist minister from Alexandria, Louisiana, who served as a conservative Democratic member of the [ouisiana State Senate for a single term from 1996 to 2000. He was particularly known for his opposition to gambling.
From 1964 to 1988, Dyess was the Rapides Parish Registrar of Voters, a position to which he was appointed by the parish police jury (akin to the county commission in other states). The registrar's position brought Dyess ex officio membership on the Louisiana State Board of Election Supervisors. He was succeeded as registrar by Joanell Luke Wilson, who retired in 2015 and was succeeded by Linda "Lin" Dyess Stewart, a daughter of B. G. Dyess.
Dyess was born in the Valentine Creek/Gardner community of western Rapides Parish to Josie B. Dyess (1876–1965), subsequently a Ward 5 constable, and the former Sarah Matilda Smith (1888–1978). His paternal grandparents were Edmond D. Dyess and the former Margaret Mathis. He graduated from Oak Hill High School in the Oak Hill community of western Rapides Parish and later attended Louisiana College, a Southern Baptist-affiliated institution in Pineville. He was ordained to preach at the age of seventeen and had by the time of his death at the age of ninety officiated or assisted in more than 1,500 funerals in central Louisiana, including close family members.
On his nineteenth birthday, Dyess married his former Oak Hill classmate, Ava Brister (August 12, 1923 – January 7, 2005), a native of Sikes in Winn Parish. Ava was the third child of Wiley E. Brister, a farmer, and the former Nancy Ada Hudson (died 1933). Ava Brister and B.G. Dyess married on August 16, 1941, four days after her eighteenth birthday. Because both of her parents had died by the time that Ava was only ten years of age, she was reared thereafter by her older siblings, including, her brother, Houston Brister, and his wife, Era. After Ava's death, Dyess wed Billie Whittington.
B. G. and Ava Dyess had seven children: Madeline Faye Dyess (born and died May 6, 1943), two sons, Mac Dyess and wife Cheryl of Deville in eastern Rapides Parish, and Marc C. Dyess and wife Sandra of Zachary in East Baton Rouge Parish; four daughters: Loretta Dyess Cooley and husband Leonard, and Linda Dyess Stewart and husband Charles, both couples from Alexandria; Debbie Dyess Giles and husband Tony of Woodworth in southern Rapides Parish, and Louise Dyess Fontaine of Vacaville, California.
Dyess outlived all of his siblings. His three older brothers were Elbert James Dyess (1911–2008), the Reverend Oscar Carl Dyess (1915–2006), and the Reverend Ted Dyess. His other brothers were Lloyd Dyess, former superintendent of grounds and the dairy at Pinecrest State Institution in Pineville; and Rufus Dyess of Oakland, California. His sisters were Jodie Dyess Marler (ca. 1909–2011) of Hineston, Louisiana, Bertha Dyess Marler, and Jessie Dyess Dubois. While Dyess was called to the ministry through the Baptist denomination, his brother Oscar or O. C. was a pastor in the Pentecostal Church, with wide-ranging assignments in the small Louisiana towns of Ridgecrest, Montgomery, Kentwood, Rosepine, Merryville, Columbia, Ferriday, and Woodworth. B. G. Dyess was among the ministers officiating at the funeral of his brother Oscar Dyess. Another brother, Ted Dyess, was also a Pentecostal minister pastoring in the western United States, primarily in California. His brother Elbert Dyess was a master craftsman whose extensive work can be seen at the Leesville Railroad Museum in Leesville in Vernon Parish, where a replica of the old Dyess homestead, a church, and other buildings can be viewed.
Election to state Senate
At seventy-three, Dyess was elected to the state Senate seat from Rapides Parish when the incumbent Democrat, Joe McPherson, then of Pineville and later of Woodworth, did not seek a fourth consecutive term in the Senate but instead unsuccessfully challenged state Representative Dale Sittig of Eunice in a special election for an opening on the Louisiana Public Service Commission. Dyess led in the nonpartisan blanket primary by 313 votes over fellow Democrat Jack Bennett Dewitt (born 1940), the former Rapides Parish Police Jury highway superintendent from Boyce. The raw vote was 9,512 (30 percent) to 9,188 (29 percent). Republican Lindsey H. Torbett (born 1954) of Alexandria finished in a strong third place with 7,975 ballots (25.2 percent). Three other Democratic candidates trailed, Larry M. Paige, 2,163 votes (6.8 percent), former State Senator Cecil R. Blair of LeCompte in south Rapides Parish, 2,113 (6.7 percent), and Jerry M. Guillory, 753 votes (2.4 percent). In the ensuing general election between two Democrats as permitted in Louisiana, Dyess defeated Dewitt, 18,777 (55.1 percent) to 15,294 (44.9 percent).
Dyess ran on the platform of honesty and integrity with emphasis on fighting gambling both statewide and within Rapides Parish, where voters rejected a gambling proposal. It is often said by both his friends and political foes that he was hard to campaign against because he had married or buried someone in practically every family in Rapides Parish over so many years.
At seventy-seven and facing his first wife's declining health, Dyess did not seek a second term in the 1999 primary, in which McPherson waged a successful comeback by defeating Republican state Representative Randy Wiggins of Pineville, who sought to move up to the state Senate. In that campaign, Wiggins hailed the retiring Senator Dyess: "I don't think a legislator could devote more of himself to the service of his constituents than this man. He's truly a people's representative ... a true statesman."
In the Senate, Dyess served on the Agriculture, Health and Welfare, and Transportation committees. He was the vice chairman of the Senate Judiciary B Committee. Then Senate President Randy Ewing,a moderate Democrat from Jackson Parish, who named Dyess to the agriculture committee, noted that the minister "grew up on a small farm in Rapides Parish [and] has a special understanding of the issues facing farmers across the state and in Central Louisiana."
In 1999, Dyess authored SB73 to make Louisiana State University at Alexandria a four-year institution. The bill was tabled when the local legislative delegation agreed that first a Senate Concurrent Resolution had to be passed wherein the regents would study the need to convert LSUA to four-year status. Subsequently, Dyess filed the necessary Senate resolution, and in 2000, Senator Joe McPherson presented the bill that passed to make LSUA a four-year institution, effective in 2001. Dyess, Representatives Randy Wiggins, and Charles W. DeWitt, LSU Board Chair Charles Weems, former Representative Jock Scott, and Alexandria Mayor Ned Randolph all testified at the Education Committee hearing on behalf of LSUA.
While in the Senate, Dyess' relationship with Governor Murphy J. "Mike" Foster, Jr., was seriously strained when Dyess claimed on the Senate floor that Foster, a Democrat-turned-Republican was not opposed to gambling despite occasional rhetoric to the contrary. Foster replied with such anger toward Dyess that the Senate, on a motion by Republican Tommy Casanova of Acadia Parish, passed a resolution praising Dyess for his integrity. This was the first such resolution issued in this manner to a fellow senator.
I believe B. G. Dyess brought more morality, honesty, and integrity to the capitol of the State of Louisiana than there ever has been. -- Rapides Parish Police Juror Richard Billings.
As a state senator, Dyess was a spokesman for traditional moral values. On January 9, 1999, Senator Dyess led a prayer rally attended by hundreds in the auditorium of DeRidder High School in DeRidder in Beauregard Parish, outside Dyess's district. Joining Dyess at the rally was Joe Aguillard, the incoming parish superintendent who in 2005 became for nine years the president of Dyess's alma mater, Louisiana College. The rally featured such hymns as "Give Me That Old Time Religion" and "On My Knees." Flutist Kari McCarty performed a patriotic medley. Organized by the Reverend Jon E. Tellifero (born 1959) of the First United Methodist Church in DeRidder, the event was patterned after a similar call for prayer in 1863 for the future of the nation by U.S. President Abraham Lincoln. Dyess said that the public school system was "at, perhaps, its lowest ebb, even in my lifetime. But, that can change through prayer. Is prayer profitable? Is what we're doing here today profitable? [standing ovation] We believe it is, or else we wouldn't be here today. My friends, prayer is profitable."
Years earlier, Dyess had served on the Rapides Parish School Board, to which he was elected in 1948 at the age of twenty-six. He resigned from the school board to pastor a church outside the district. He successfully proposed the appointment of Andrew "Andy" Johnson of Hineston to complete his term on the school board. Dyess has been a longtime member of the Alexandria Civitans, the Central Louisiana Boys and Girls Clubs, the Masonic lodge, the Special Olympics, the Rapides Senior Volunteer Program, and the Louisiana College Wildcat Athletic Association.
Though a Democrat, Dyess crossed party lines in 2004 to contribute $500 to the unsuccessful campaign of Jock Scott to the United States House of Representatives. Scott lost to Rodney Alexander of Jackson Parish, who resigned the post in 2013. While he was in his eighties, Dyess changed his party from Democrat to Republican.
Death and legacy
In 2006, Dyess received the "Friends of Jimmie Davis Award" from the Louisiana Political Museum and Hall of Fame in Winnfield, named for the gospel singer who served as governor from 1944 to 1948 and again from 1960 to 1964.
Dyess died at Naomi Heights Nursing Home in Alexandria. Services were held on February 20, 2013, at Parkview Baptist Church in Alexandria, with seven ministers officiating. He was a member of the Humble Baptist Church in PItkin in Rapides Parish. Interment followed beside his wife, Ava, at Calvary Baptist Church Cemetery in the Gardner community.
Upon his death, Dyess was lauded by Richard Billings, a member of the Rapides Parish Police Jury, accordingly: "I believe B. G. Dyess brought more morality, honesty, and integrity to the capitol of the State of Louisiana than there ever has been."
- B.G. Dyess, Senate District 29. senate.legis.state.la.us. Retrieved on September 18, 2009.
- Social Security Death Index. Ancestry.com. Retrieved on September 18, 2009; under a pay wall.
- Oliver Jenkins. RootsWeb. Ancestry.com. Retrieved on September 18, 2009.
- B. G. Dyess obituary. The Alexandria Town Talk. Retrieved on August 23, 2019.
- Obituary of Ava Brister Dyess. Rootsweb.ancestry.com (January 8, 2005). Retrieved on September 18, 2009; no longer on-line.
- B. G. Dyess: Obit. KALB.com (February 21, 2013).
- Obituary of Oscar C. Dyess, Natchez (Mississippi) Democrat, January 22, 2006.
- Louisiana Secretary of State, Election Returns, October 21, 1995.
- Louisiana Secretary of State, Election Returns, November 18, 1995.
- James Ronald Skains. The Piney Woods. Retrieved on September 18, 2009; material no longer on-line.
- Louisiana Secretary of State, Election Returns, October 23, 1999.
- "Former Louisiana state senator, B. G. Dyess, dies at 90, The Alexandria Town Talk,February 19, 2013.
- New Orleans Times-Picayune, The Baton Rouge Advocate, The Alexandria Town Talk, 1999 editions.
- Jules Miller, "PRAYER RALLY ... .Spiritual help is sought for Beauregard's Schools," The Alexandria Town Talk, January 10, 1999
- B.G. Dyess from zip code 71301. Watchdog.net. Retrieved on September 18, 2009.