Camille Gravel

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Camille Francis Gravel, Jr.

(High-profile Louisiana attorney and political activist)​​

Camille Gravel of LA.jpg

Born August 10, 1915​
Alexandria, Louisiana, USA​
Died December 23, 2005 (aged 90)​
Alexandria, Louisiana
Political Party Democrat
Spouse (1) Katherine David Gravel (married, 1939–1979, her death)​

(2) Evelyn Gianfala Gravel (married, 1980–2005, his death)​
Grady David Gravel
​ Mark Alan Gravel
​ Charles Gregory Gravel
​ Ann G. Vanderslice
​ Eileen G. Cappel
​ Martha G. Antoon
​ Virginia G. Carbo
​ Margaret Lynn Gravel
​ Deceased children:
​ Richard Alvin Gravel
​ Camille F. Gravel, III
​ Eunice Holloman Gravel​
Alma mater:
University of Notre Dame​ The Catholic University of America
Louisiana State University Law Center

Religion Roman Catholic

Camille Francis Gravel, Jr. (August 10, 1915 – December 23, 2005), was an attorney and Democratic politician from his native Alexandria, Louisiana.​

Gravel also spent much of his time and personal funds supporting the Roman Catholic Church. Pope Pius XII honored him with the "Order of St. Gregory" for his service to the church.​


Gravel (pronounced GRA VELLE) graduated in 1935 from the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana. From 1937 to 1939, he attended law school at the Paul M. Hebert Law Center of Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge and The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., but he once explained that he just could not stick to the books. At a time when a legal degree was not required to become a lawyer, Gravel "read for the law" and passed the bar exam in 1940.[1]

Gravel introduced Louis Berry, the first African-American lawyer to have been admitted to the Alexandria Bar Association. Berry later said that no other white attorney in Alexandria agreed to introduce him.[2]

The 1948 Democratic National Convention

Gravel was an early civil rights activist who was derided by Louisiana segregationist Democrats in the 1950s as an "integrationist." "Purely as a moral proposition, I think segregation is wrong," Gravel said in 1959. He attracted national attention when he led the loyal Louisiana Democratic delegation to the 1948 national convention in Philadelphia, when delegates from Mississippi and half of the Alabama contingent walked out in protest of a civil rights plank in the party platform supported by the nominee, U.S. President Harry Truman.[3]

Oddly, Gravel in the fall of 1948 was the elector for the since defunct 8th congressional district committed to then Governor Strom Thurmond of South Carolina, the official Democratic presidential nominee in Louisiana, running regionally on a States Rights' Party ticket against Truman and Governor Thomas E. Dewey of New York. Another Thurmond elector was Leander Perez, a staunch segregationist and Gravel's longtime intra-party rival from Plaquemines Parish in suburban New Orleans.[4]

In 1952, Gravel was again a Democratic Party elector committed to Governor Adlai Stevenson of Illinois. The Stevenson-John Sparkman slate won in Louisiana that year against the Republican candidates Dwight Eisenhower and Richard M. Nixon.[5]

Advisor to three governors

Gravel worked in the national Democratic organization on behalf of Stevenson in both 1952 and 1956.[6] He was a confidant and adviser to Governors Earl Kemp Long, John J. McKeithen, and Edwin Edwards.

In 1955, Earl Long had selected Gravel to run for state attorney general in 1956, but the job paid little, and Gravel, who was rearing a large family, turned down the offer. The position went instead to the Democrat Jack P. F. Gremillion of Baton Rouge, who served from 1956 to 1972.​

John McKeithen named Gremillion to investigate Mafia influence on state government, as reported in an expose in the former Life magazine, but Gremillion disclosed no corroborating evidence of criminal activity. McKeithen also tapped Camille Gravel to investigate the question. Gravel suddenly left the committee in disgust when it was halted from further work after the chief target became Crawford Hugh "Sammy" Downs (1911-1985), another Alexandria lawyer, former state senator for Rapides Parish, and a key player in the McKeithen administration. The Gravel probe was continued by East Baton Rouge Parish District Attorney Sargent Pitcher, and he too found no evidence of organized crime having infiltrated state government except for two questionable telephone calls admitted to by the former McKeithen advisor Aubrey Young.[7]

In Edwin Edwards' first two terms as governor most of his proposed legislation was drafted by Gravel. For Edwards' third term from 1984 to 1988, Gravel returned as the gubernatorial counsel. When Edwards was indicted for the first time on federal racketeering charges in 1985, Gravel left the governor's staff to work as his co-defense counsel. Gravel also served on Edwards' defense teams when the former governor was convicted of racketeering in 2000.​

In 1979, Gravel succeeded in obtaining the acquittal of former Congressman Otto Passman of Monroe from charges of fraud, conspiracy, accepting an illegal gratuity, and tax evasion associated with the allegation that he had received $213,000 in illegal gifts from the South Korean lobbyist Tongsun Park (born 1935) in a scandal called Koreagate.[8]

Friendship with the Kennedy family

Former Louisiana state senator, gubernatorial candidate, secretary of state, and insurance commissioner James H. "Jim" Brown recalls how Gravel became friends with the Kennedys:​

There is a marvelous story as to how Camille’s relationship with Kennedy infuriated then Governor Earl Long. The governor led a delegation that included Camille to the 1956 Democratic National Convention being held in Chicago. Kennedy was a candidate for vice president because the position had been thrown open by presidential nominee Adlai Stevenson. Earl Long supported liberal Senator Estes Kefauver of Tennessee. The governor decided to leave the convention early, and gave instructions to Camille [Gravel] and Judge Edmund M. Reggie of Crowley and a future father-in-law of U.S. Senator Edward M. Kennedy, to support Kefauver [who won the nomination for vice president].

The Massachusetts delegation sat side by side with the Louisiana delegates, and Camille struck up a friendship with Kennedy. Despite Earl Long’s instructions, Camille supported Kennedy for vice president. Needless to say, the governor was infuriated. And so Camille damaged his relationship with the governor but made a lasting alliance with the man who would be president.

State constitutional convention, 1973

Jim Brown also noted the pivotal role that Gravel played in the Louisiana Constitutional Convention of 1973: "Camille's effectiveness was never better put on display than during the effort to rewrite Louisiana's obsolete constitution. Camille worked on every major section of the proposed document, perfecting the middle ground and working out compromises when delegates disagreed. I know of no greater influence on the basic law of our state than Camille."​

Death and family

Gravel's parents were Camille Francis Gravel, Sr., and the former Aline Delvaille. Two days before Christmas in 2005, Gravel died at Naomi Heights Nursing Home in Alexandria, where he had been residing for several months. He had undergone heart valve replacement surgery eleven months earlier at St. Frances Cabrini Hospital in Alexandria. The surgery left him in a coma. Soon his kidneys began to malfunction, and doctors performed a second surgery to determine the reasons for renal failure. In this surgery, doctors removed a blood clot. and determined that he had also suffered a stroke.[9][10][11]

Gravel's funeral mass was conducted on December 27, 2005, at St. Francis Xavier Cathedral in downtown Alexandria.[9]

On November 26, 1939, Gravel wed the former Katherine David, who died in 1979. The couple had eleven children, eight of whom were living as of January 2012: Grady David Gravel of Lafayette, Mark Alan Gravel of Alexandria, and Charles Gregory Gravel and his wife, Elycia, of Alexandria; Ann G. Vanderslice and her husband, Stephen J. Vanderslice of Alexandria; Eileen G. Cappel and her husband, Richard B, Cappel, of Lake Charles; Martha G. Antoon and her husband, attorney Thomas A. Antoon of Alexandria; Virginia G. Carbo of Alexandria, and Margaret Lynn Gravel of Alexandria. The three deceased children were Richard Alvin Gravel, Camille F. Gravel, III, and Eunice Holloman Gravel.[12]

Charles "Greg" Gravel (born November 1955) was an unsuccessful Democratic candidate in the 2014 primary election for the Division G seat on the 9th Judicial District Court held by Harry Randow.[13] He and Randow, who each drew 23.2 percent of the vote, lost to the Republican candidate, Greg Beard, who led the field with 18,405 ballots (53.6 percent).[14]

Gravel's second wife, whom he married in 1980, was the former Evelyn Gianfala (1922-2012), a native of Berwick in St. Mary Parish in south Louisiana., who was the president of Gianfala & Son Oil Field Construction Company. She was also a former chairman of the Louisiana State Board of Tax Appeals and a one-time legislative assistant to state Senators William Cleveland and Jamar Adcock of Monroe. Evelyn Gravel was a supporter of live theatre, having served on the boards of the Little Theatres of Alexandria and Crowley and the Swine Palace Theatre in Baton Rouge.[12]


Former Insurance Commissioner Jim Brown said that Gravel's influence on the legal profession and the political landscape of the state was "overwhelming. He has been, for many years, hands down one of the best criminal lawyers in the country."

Starting in 1976 and continuing through 1979, Gravel worked with Robert G. Vernon and Duane Yates to form the Louisiana Music Commission, a model for other states.

In 1995, Gravel was inducted into the Louisiana Political Museum and Hall of Fame in Winnfield.[15]

In its edition of April 29, 2007, Gravel's hometown newspaper, The Alexandria Town Talk, declared that Gravel, along with U.S. Representative Gillis Long and the American Civil War General William Tecumseh Sherman, were the three most significant persons of history associated with Alexandria.[16]


  1. Obituary of 9th Judicial District Court Judge Guy Humphries, The Alexandria Town Talk, March 25, 2010.
  2. Stevan C. Dittman. fall-2009.pdf Camille Gravel. The Advocate legal newsletter, Vo1. 19 No. 1 (Fall 2009). Retrieved on July 13, 2013; no longer on-line.
  3. Alonzo Hamby. 1948 Democratic Convention: The South Secedes Again. Retrieved on July 13, 2013.
  4. Minden Herald, October 29, 1948, p. 2.
  5. Minden Herald, October 24, 1952, p. 2.
  6. William C. Havard, Rudolf Heberle, and Perry H. Howard, The Louisiana Elections of 1960 (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Studies, 1963), p. 84.
  7. Life Magazine (Vol. 68, No. 13), p. 53.
  8. Billy Hathorn, "Otto Passman, Jerry Huckaby, and Frank Spooner: The Louisiana Fifth Congressional District Election of 1976," Louisiana History: The Journal of the Louisiana Historical Association, LIV No. 3 (Summer 2013), p. 341-342.
  9. 9.0 9.1 Robert Morgan (December 24, 2005). Gravel's legacy: political adviser, civil rights advocate. Alexandria Daily Town Talk. Retrieved on June 26, 2014.
  10. Camille Gravel, Jr., in hospital in critical condition. The Shreveport Times (February 11, 2005).
  11. Camille Gravel, adviser to Louisiana governors, dies at 90. The Lafayette Daily Advertiser (December 23, 2005).
  12. 12.0 12.1 Evelyn Gianfala Gravel. Alexandria Town Talk, January 7, 2012. Retrieved on January 7, 2012.
  13. Greg Gravel announces candidacy for Rapides district court judge. KALB-TV (June 12, 2014). Retrieved on June 26, 2014.
  14. Louisiana Secretary of State, Election Returns, November 4, 2014.
  15. Louisiana Political Museum and Hall of Fame. Retrieved on January 7, 2012.
  16. Alexandria Daily Town Talk, April 29, 2007.

See also

William J. "Bill" Dodd, Peapatch Politics: The Earl Long Era in Louisiana Politics (Baton Rouge: Claitor's Publishing, 1991).​
Who's Who in America, 1975 edition​
Alexandria City Data​ for look at Camille Gravel's political donations.