VILLE PLATTE -- With the release of former Governor Edwin Edwards this week, Gervis LaFleur reflected on how instrumental the former governor was in Ville Platte’s history.
LaFleur last spoke with Edwards two years ago in March, and he described him as high-spirited.
He said Edwards never complained. “He never defended the charges alleged by the feds as far as his conduct was concerned. And, he said he still expressed his love for Louisiana and its people. He showed no ill feeling against anyone.”
LaFleur is hoping he will see Edwards soon. “We were very close. He helped so many people throughout the State of Louisiana collectively and individually. And in spite of mistakes, if he made any, I still regard him as a God-fearing man.”
He said he and Edwards were very close friends. As governor, he said, Edwards assisted Community Action Agency (CAA), which LaFleur presently serves as state president.
Edwards, according to LaFleur, gave each CAA $20,000 annually to use at their discretion. He said they received federal funds and every dollar was in place so the extra funds assisted the leaders in each CAA and allowed them to hire people to help district food commodities, Food for Families and other programs CAA administers. “He supported CAA statewide wholeheartedly.”
LaFleur remembers Edwards speaking for the association’s banquet several years. He even allowed the association to use the governor’s mansion to host the “poor man supper.
"He said this event was for the general public and each person was charged $10. The money was raised for the association." He also recalls Walter Lee, current Evangeline clerk of court, and his band provided music at no cost.
He said Edwards always supported CAA, because he believed CAA had a lot in common with himself. He also liked the services rendered to the general public, according to LaFleur.
Once, Edwards sponsored a trip to Paris in the late 1980s for $10,000 per person. LaFleur said he traveled to Paris with the governor. There were 600 people on two planes. They left from New Orleans and spent seven days touring the area. He said it was a good will trip.
Edwards also was invited by LaFleur to attend the dedication of Ninth Baptist Church, which was torn down and rebuilt to service the growing congregation.
He said it was prior to Edwards’ inauguration and Edwards came. “He was the first governor to visit an all-black church in Ville Platte and Evangeline Parish. At the time the church was under the leadership of Rev. M.L. Thomas."
The Eastern Seventh District Baptist Association Ministers’ group invited the governor to dinner to thank him for all the help he had done as governor for the poor people in the State of Louisiana.
Edwards also assisted the area in securing a vocational school in the parish and LSU in Eunice.
LaFleur recalls he was part of a group of Ville Platte businessmen who approached Edwards to run for the Seventh Congressional District after T.A. Thompson was killed in an auto accident on his way home from Washington to Ville Platte.
The group first approached Thompson’s brother, Dr. Robert Thompson, but he declined to run for the seat. Edwards won that election.
He said that group included L.O. Fuselier, Jack Fruge, Gaynor Soileau, John Saunders, Rep. Emile Coreil, Chief Audley Vidrine, Billy Pucheu, the former district attorney; Percy Fontenot, Dr. Robert Thompson and the Eastern Seventh District Baptist Association led by Rev. Thomas.
LaFleur said Edwards visited Evangeline Parish frequently. He said Edwards had a lot of friends here. He also recalled Edwards visited the rededication of St. James Baptist Church in Chicot, which was under the direction of Rev. Eradley Ben.
When Edwards decided to run for governor, LaFleur said he contacted his friends here. “We were able to help him statewide. We contacted leaders in different parishes.”
Lafleur said they told others what type of congressman Edwards had been for the Seventh District and what he had done for Evangeline Parish.
When asked how he would describe Edwards, LaFleur said he was very flamboyant. He was a man of good character, a man of integrity and one who respected people, regardless of race, creed or color, he said. “He was one who had love and compassion for the State of Louisiana and its people.”
LaFleur said, “if there was anything he could help you with, he was always willing to do so.” As president of CAA, LaFleur travels the state. Today, he said people still express the fact if Edwards ran for office, they’d vote for him. He said both black and whites have stated their support of Edwards. “If he’d run again, he’d win again.”
(Editor’s Note: Edwin Edwards was released from the federal prison in Oakdale Thursday, January 13. He was moved to a halfway house after serving eight years for a corruption conviction. Then, he was moved to his daughter’s home in Denham Springs where he will remain under house arrest for six months. Edwards was governor of Louisiana for four terms (1972–1980, 1984–1988 and 1992–1996. Unless given a presidential pardon, he would not be eligible to run for office in Louisiana until 15 years after his federal probation ends in 2014.)