Leon Gary

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Leon J. Gary, Sr.​

Mayor of Houma, Terrebonne Parish, Louisiana
In office
July 1946​ – July 1962​
Preceded by
Succeeded by Conrad Joseph Picou, Sr.​

Born July 27, 1912​
Patoutville, Iberia Parish
Louisiana, USA​
Died December 5, 2000 (aged 88)​
Baton Rouge, Louisiana​
Resting place Resthaven Gardens of Memory and Mausoleum in Baton Rouge​
Political party Democrat
Spouse(s) Ada Lolita Theriot Gary​
Children Leon J. Gary, Jr.

Lolita M. "Girlie" Gary
​ Don Leon Gary (c. 1942-2010)​

Occupation Oil company distributor​

Government official

Religion Roman Catholic

Leon J. Gary, Sr. (July 27, 1912 – December 5, 2000), was an American Democratic politician who served from 1946 to 1962 as the mayor of Houma in Terrebonne Parish, Louisiana.[1]

Background

Originally from Patoutville in sugar-growing Iberia Parish, Gary was a descendant of Juan Garrido (reduced to "Gary"), who was born c. 1737 in Málaga, Spain.[2] Gary also lived early in his life in Jeanerette in Iberia Parish.

He was married to the former Ada Lolita Theriot (1910-1995), the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Ernest Theriot. The couple had three children, Leon J. Gary, Jr., an attorney from Baton Rouge and his wife, Rhea Gary, an artist; Lolita M. "Girlie" Gary of Metairie in suburban Jefferson Parish, and Don Leon Gary (1942-2010), a geography professor at Nicholls State University in Thibodaux.[1][3]

Career

Gary earned his livelihood as a distributor for an oil company and later as a banker. He was the president in 1941 of the Houma chapter of Rotary International.[4]​ During World War II, Gary was a member of the Houma branch of the federal Office of Price Administration. Over a five-year period, the "ration board", as it was known, had regulated and stabilized prices on scarce consumer goods. The Houma OPA facility closed on November 4, 1946. Gary said that the board was "proud of one thing: We always guided ourselves when issuing critical material on a high-priority basis. Much pressure was put on us, but as a member of the program I feel that we gave such material to the people entitled to it. We did the job as well as we possibly could."[5]

Gary's sixteen years as mayor are remembered for the expansion of the Houma electrical and water systems and mineral development. Four-inch water pipes on Main Street were replaced by 8-inch pipes.[6] Gary also worked to establish the first municipal auditorium, the Intracoastal Canal tunnel, the Houma Navigation Channel, and a natural gas lease which eliminated or reduced property taxes for most municipal residents.[1]

While still mayor, Gary was also an elected member of the Louisiana State Board of Education for Louisiana's 3rd congressional district, with service from 1950 to 1962. He was the board president in 1958.[1] The body has since been reconfigured and is known as the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education.​

In 1952, Mayor Gary ran for lieutenant governor on the gubernatorial ticket headed by fellow Democrat Bill Dodd, who was also the outgoing lieutenant governor. The position however went to Charles Emmett "Cap" Barham (1904-1972), a member of the state Senate from Ruston, who defeated John J. McKeithen in a runoff primary.​

From 1957 to 1958, Gary was president of the Louisiana Municipal Association; he was succeeded in that post by Mayor W. George Bowdon, Jr., of Alexandria.[7]​ He was a delegate to the 1956 Democratic National Convention, which met in Chicago, Illinois, to nominate the Stevenson-Kefauver ticket, the first party slate to lose the electoral votes of Louisiana since Reconstruction.[8]

Defeat in 1962

Gary was forced into a second round of balloting in his reelection bid for mayor in the spring of 1962 against his intra-party rival, Conrad Joseph Picou, Sr. (1917-1964), who led a three-candidate field.[9] Picou, a supermarket operator originally from Chauvin in Terrebonne Parish, then unseated Gary in the runoff election held on May 12, 1962. Coincidentally, Picou died exactly two years after his victory over Gary.[10] Picou was killed by a bullet from his pistol which discharged when he tripped on the floor of his garage. Among Picou's survivors was a son, Michael Picou, who was studying for the priesthood in Covington in St. Tammany Parish.[11]

Joining the McKeithen administration

In 1964, Gary was appointed the director of the Louisiana Department of Public Works by one of his former opponent for lieutenant governor, John McKeithen, then the incoming governor. This required his relocation to the capital city of Baton Rouge. Gary succeeded Claude Kirkpatrick, the DPW director under Jimmie Davis. Kilpatrick ran in the 1963 Democratic primary for governor against McKeithen and a large field of candidates.

In 1969, McKeithen shifted Gary to the position of state highway director[6] upon the sudden resignation of A. B. Ratcliff, Jr.[12] After two years, Gary resigned in 1971 from the highway post to enter an undisclosed private business. As he vacated state government, Gary sought to obtain legislative passage of a bill which would have permitted him to retire from state service with $18,000 annually.[13]

The defunct Life Magazine called Gary "the man to see whenever a state legislator wants to line up free accommodations in Las Vegas," Nevada. The magazine said the go-between was an associate of Carlos Marcello, the former boss of organized crime in Louisiana. Gary denied the magazine's claim.[13]

During his time with the McKeithen administration, Gary's former ally, Bill Dodd, was the state education superintendent.​

Death at 88

Gary died in Baton Rouge at the age of eighty-eight. He is interred there alongside his wife and son at Resthaven Memorial Gardens and Mausoleum.[1]

References​

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 Leon Gary. 'The Baton Rouge Advocate (December 8, 2000). Retrieved on July 17, 2015.
  2. The Gary Family of Louisiana. genforum.genealogy.com. Retrieved on May 23, 2012.
  3. Don Gary obituary. Houmatoday.com. Retrieved on May 22, 2012.
  4. About Houma Rotary. houmarotary.org. Retrieved on May 22, 2012.
  5. Bill Ellzey, (November 22, 2006). "Local leaders were thankful to wrap up wartime price control work". Thibodaux Daily Comet. Retrieved on May 23, 2012.
  6. 6.0 6.1 Houma Centennial booklet, Terrebonne Parish Library, Houma, Louisiana.
  7. List of past presidents of the Louisiana Municipal Association; no longer on-line.
  8. Louisiana Delegation to the 1956 Democratic National Convention. Politicalgraveyard.com. Retrieved on May 22, 2012.
  9. Municipal; Election Returns Cited. The Monroe News-Star (April 9, 1962). Retrieved on July 16, 2015.
  10. Conrad Joseph Picou, Sr.. search.ancestry.com. Retrieved on July 17, 2015.
  11. Mayor Conrad Joseph Picou, Sr.: Inquest slated in pistol death of Houma mayor. Findagrave.com. Retrieved on July 17, 2015.
  12. "A. B. Ratcliff, Jr., Resigns As Highway Director", Minden Press-Herald', August 12, 1969, p. 1.
  13. 13.0 13.1 "Gary Quits Post With Highways", Minden Press-Herald, September 2, 1971, p. 1.

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