Hizzoner talks about playing football for the Cajuns, his love for UL, and his work on the Lafayette school desegregation case.
Tell us about yourself.
I started at UL in 1968, went there on a full football scholarship. I graduated in in Economics & Finance in 3½ years.
From there I went into the National Guard for Basic Training and then Officer Candidate School, and then started law school at Loyola in 1972, finished in 1975.
I spent 7 years in the Guard, 3 years in the Army Reserves. I was a company commander, and retired as a Captain after 10 years.
Were you with the Judge Advocate General?
I became a state judge in October of 1984, I was 34 years old. I became a Federal Judge in June of 1991, appointed by President George Herbert Walker Bush. After that, I became the Chief Judge of the Western District in 2002.
Tell us about your college football career.
I was a 4 year letterman at UL, at fullback.
So you were like Tyrell Fenroy?
I wasn't as big or as strong or as fast as Fenroy. But if I had any speed at all, I'd have been an All-American.
That's a joke. I'd have never made All-American. I was slow. I was so slow.
I played with Sheriff Mike Neustrom, the late Dr. George Coussan, Dr. Bobby St. Amant, Principal Glen Lafleur, local attorney Edwin Price, Judge Jim McKay with the Court of Appeals in New Orleans, CPA Larry Sikes, and local businessman Jim Doyle. As I remember, we had one of the best GPAs of any organization on campus at that time.
Russ Faulkinberry was our coach, he was a tough guy. He was very fair, very tough, very disciplined.
You guys went to a bowl.
The Grantland Rice Bowl in Baton Rouge, we played Tennessee State. We actually were winning with 8 minutes to play, and they came back to beat us. But they probably had 5 guys who went pro on their team, and we had several guys who "went pro in something other than athletics."
Why are you so attached to UL?
Well, I love UL.
My mother went to school there, my aunts went to school there. My brother & sisters went to school there. My lovely wife went to school there. And it was a great experience for me when I was there.
I think I received an extremely good education that prepared me for law school, and prepared me for life.
USL in those days had it all, and I think it still does. It's a great environment, the coaches cared about us as players and students, the teachers cared about us as students and secondarily as players.
And the community always accepted the students from UL, which is pretty amazing to me. Here you are a kid, 18, 19, 20 years old, and you give 'em a check and show them a UL ID, and they had no problem accepting it. The community wanted-- and still wants-- the University to succeed.
Success is the ability to accomplish your goals in life. The goals for UL academically are to continue to grow and produce community leaders. Not just scholars, but community leaders. People who can not only think inside the book, but outside the box.
Talk about leaders.
A community leader is someone who has leadership qualities, and acts on them. And Lafayette has an abundance of community leaders. We have leaders in business, in engineering, in government, in technology, in the medical field. We don't just have a few leaders, but a lot of leaders, a lot of leaders with vision, people like Matt Stuller, Robert Daigle, Bill Fenstermaker, Rusty Cloutier, just to name a few.
How many communities have an excellent cardiovascular surgeon who becomes a US Congressman? That's not a political statement, it's just a fact. And if you look around at the mayors and sheriffs, judges, doctors, and community leaders all across Acadiana, all over the state, it's impressive how many of them went to UL.
You were the Federal judge overseeing the Lafayette Parish School Board desegregation case. Talk about that.
The toughest thing was accomplishing what the law required without decomposing the educational system that was in place, which was a good system, with good teachers. But they weren't dispersed enough to give everyone the same opportunity.
I followed the law and tried to do the right thing. A UL professor, Dr. Ron Perry, was one of the people who helped me coordinate and handle the issues. We won't know the effect of the decision for several more years, but I have seen some of the effects so far, and they're very positive. I've received letters from African American families who thanked me for giving their children the chance to attend a different school, and the kids are now in college, here at UL, at Princeton, and at other schools.
Did I take some flack personally? Definitely. Did my family & kids take some abuse about it? On occasion. Did I receive threats? More than once.
Was it about to deter me? Absolutely not. In fact, it strengthened my resolve.
Ironically, several community leaders came to me in support of what we did. They were willing to stick their necks out, they were a team who worked with the Attorney's office and the NAACP. They encouraged me to do the right thing, for the right reasons. Even the Chamber of Commerce came forward in support of what we were trying to do.
The initial reaction was surprising, it seemed to come out of left field. The reality was, the problem needed to be revised and concluded.
And that's what we did.
What do you do for recreation?
I love fishing. I love to deer hunt, I'd rather hunt than eat. I like good fiction books, novels, particularly James Lee Burke, who's a relative of my wife. I love people, and I love meeting people. In fact, I like lawyers. 98% of the lawyers I know are honorable, caring people.
Tell us something about yourself that most people don't know.
If I hadn't been a lawyer, I'd have been a football coach. I love coaching kids. I coached all the teams for my kids until they got to the 8th grade. Some of my best memories have been coaching kids, football, basketball, baseball, but particularly football.
Do you love the winning?
It's not that I love to win.
I hate to lose.