Monday morning’s passing of former Louisiana governor Edwin Edwards reminded me of the second and final time I met him.
Edwin Edwards is probably catching up on Smiley Anders’ column here in this 2015 image from John Georges.
When the Kinder, Louisiana, Chamber of Commerce invited him to speak at its annual banquet in 2013, he was enjoying quite a renaissance of sorts after his release from federal prison and his recent marriage to Trina. They met as pen pals while he worked in the prison library at FCI Oakdale.
Trina and Edwin were in the middle of filming for her reality TV show called ‘The Governor’s Wife’ that was produced by some friends of mine. The camera crews followed them to Kinder as he received a celebrity’s welcome. Somehow, a few of us from KPLC-TV ended up sitting at the same table as the evening’s star guest.
Jim and Deb Serra make a 58-frame cameo on A&E in 2013 in the darkened second row. Your scribe appears to be holding a camera high in the far upper right of the fuzzy frame.
As the annual awards, recognition and certificates of participation were handed out to dozens of community members, despite the party-like atmosphere inside the Coushatta Casino ballroom, the former four-term gov. and his bride appeared to be bored out of their collective minds.
Even the camera crew and producers appeared to detect that this night wasn’t going to yield much in the way of must-see TV reality.
Every time someone approached Edwards, he’d shake their hand, lean forward and nod. He’d let out a forced grin and then the admirer would depart. As soon as they did, the grin drained from his face. Every single time.
No amount of small talk was helpful. Not even from then-KPLC VP/GM Jim Serra who was at the table, and that man can get anybody to warm up just a little. Every answer from the Edwards was one-word or very few.
This continued throughout the night, despite a standing ovation following his brief keynote address that was filled with punchlines and comedic political jabs that rivaled Ronald Reagan or Ann Richards’ humor.
Edwards knew how to work a room. After all, this was the man who once quipped to a reporter that he couldn’t lose an election unless he was caught “in bed with a dead girl or a live boy.”
Edwin Edwards enjoyed gambling and many other activities, but the drink and cigar here were props.
He didn’t drink or smoke.
Outside of that chamber of commerce keynote address, he knew he didn’t have to work the room anymore. He was paid to give the speech, and I do think the audience got their money’s worth. Those at my table that night, maybe not so much up until then.
Finally, I thought I’d say something, anything to break the awkward silence.
“Governor, Bumpy Ware’s nephew works with us at the TV station,” I said from across the table. “He couldn’t be here tonight, but he says hello.”
Immediately, this stoic man comes to life. The color returned to his face, and his eyes opened wide as if he’d just been shaken awake from a nap.
The noise around us drowned out his response, so I got up from the table, moved closer and knelt low next to his seat. He grabbed my hand to shake it for a second time that night and he held on.
“Oh man, did you know Bumpy Ware?”
Before I could answer no, he kept talking.
“In all my years in politics, I’ve had friends, good friends and I never ever had a friend that was so good to me and dear to me like Bumpy Ware. Any friend of Bumpy Ware is a friend of mine. Please send them my regards.”
Edwards’ Cajun accent rolled off that last word.
“Ruh-gahdsss,” he held on to that long s-sound as the smile lingered on his face. Edwards squeezed my hand with emphasis as he said it before letting it go.
I never knew Bumpy Ware, but I do know his nephew, John.
John had made the ‘tell him hello’ comment earlier that day at work. He may not have been serious, but it turned into the highlight of the night, at least for me.
WATCH: Bumpy Ware’s nephew and yours truly are late to set for KPLC’s Connections at Midday show
Host Mari Wilson holds down the fort while the boys attempt to slide in during the show. Unfortunately, John’s entry was on-camera. Mine was not.