Pictured is Jim Brown (center) as he autographs a copy of his book My Louisiana Odyssey: A Memoir for Rotarian Bill Brunet (right). Also pictured are: standing- Rotarians Larry Lachney (left) and Brent Coreil (right) and Judge John Saunders (seated). (Gazette photo by Tony Marks)
A Louisiana homer
Speaking with his native Missourian version of a southern drawl was former Louisiana State Senator, Louisiana Secretary of State, and Commissioner of Insurance Jim Brown as he met with the Rotary Club of Ville Platte Tuesday.
Brown spoke about his new book My Louisiana Odyssey: A Memoir which contains stories of his career as a lawyer and in politics.
He explained the idea for his book came after he started his own publishing company. “I’m finding so many people have a great personal history they love to write,” he said. “I’ve encouraged them to do so and to include interesting events in their lives. I’ll help people print 25 or 50 books to give to their grandchildren and great-grandchildren to say they lived a pretty interesting life.”
“As part of that effort,” he continued, “I’ve written a memoir that kind of tells some interesting events that we can all relate to. Maybe it’s personal to me, but maybe it’ll spark some stories you have.”
Brown then began sharing some of the stories in the book beginning on a Friday night in 1958 at the Sock Hop which was held in his high school gymnasium.
“The number one song in the country was “A Whole Lot of Shaking Going On” by Jerry Lee Lewis,” he said. “We danced and danced time and time again to that song.”
Ten years later, Brown graduated from Tulane Law School and moved to his wife’s native Concordia Parish. “I did not know a soul and had no clients,” Brown reminisced.
One day, while he was in the back room of his office, Brown heard the door open, and in walked Jerry Lee Lewis. “He was my first client,” Brown said. “He introduced me to Mickey Gilley, and Mickey introduced me to Jimmy Swaggart. Those notorious cousins were my first three clients.”
Years later, as Brown explained, Governor Jimmie Davis “built a farm up in Newellton about an hour and a half north of Ferriday.”
He went on to explain how his bond formed between himself and the governor.
“Once a week,” Brown said, “he’d drive back-and-forth to the Governor’s Mansion. When he left Newellton and needed a bathroom break and a coffee stop, he started coming into my office.”
On one occasion, the governor asked Brown to notarize a document for him and asked if he had any raccoons because that was his favorite dish.
“I went to some of the outlaw hunters, and they’d bring me raccoons,” Brown said. “I’d cut the musk off of them and freeze them. I’d always have a raccoon in the freezer for the governor.”
Time passed, and Brown asked Governor Davis how he would cook the raccoons. Governor Davis replied, “You put it in a pot of boiling water and boil it for 12 hours. Then you take it out the pot, slice it into thin strips, and fry it.”
According to Brown, that went on for the next 40 years as he became the governor’s notary.
“In 2002,” Brown said, “Jimmie Davis was 102-years-old and in his waning days. I was at my office in the state capitol, and his aide came over and said the governor needed something notarized.”
Brown continued, “I went over, and he was sitting up in bed with a smile on his face. I notarized his Last Will and Testament. He said, “I always asked if I could do something for you to repay all you have done for me.’ I said there was one thing he could for me and asked him to sing a few bars of ‘You Are My Sunshine.’ Jimmy Davis sat there in bed and started singing. He died two weeks later.
As Brown put it, “That is a very moving story for me because this is the most popular American song in the world, and the last time the guy who wrote it would sing it was to me.”
Brown went on to share stories in the book about Governors John McKeithen and Edwin Edwards.
“The three worst flights I ever had in my life was when Edwin Edwards was flying the plane,” Brown said. “He had been an Air Force pilot, and he liked to hone his skills with the state pilot next to him. We were up in Tallulah to dedicate a hospital back in the 80s. Edwards decided to take off in the plane. We got about 1,000 feet off the ground, and the door of the plane falls off. I’m not Catholic, but I was saying my Hail Marys.”
Brown continued, “We made it down, and two other flights that should have taken us 30 minutes took us three hours in terrible weather. If you get a chance to fly with Edwin Edwards, I suggest you turn it down.”
Brown’s book also covers stories about art, cooking, and religion. The religion part deals with revenge and when should a person forgive and forget.
“I had a real run in with the federal government about 20 years ago,” Brown said. “I’m not happy about it, and the two fellas the justice department took out after me have both been disbarred and cannot practice law in Louisiana anymore. I was very bitter about that for a number of years and very torn over letting go.”
He then used an encounter with the remains of Saint Marie Goretti to illustrate his point about forgiveness.
As Brown explained, Maria Goretti is the youngest Catholic saint. When she was 12-years-old, a neighbor had broken in to her home, raped her, and stabbed her.
“She lived for two days,” Brown said, “and on her death bed she said, ‘I will forgive this man who did this to me. I will see him in Heaven. I will embrace Him, and I will tell him I forgive him.’”
Brown then shared the saint’s remains came to Our Lady of Mercy Catholic Church in Baton Rouge where his good friend Fr. Cleo Milano is pastor. Brown asked Fr. Milano if he could get some time alone with the saint’s remains in the sanctuary of the church.
“He called me the next day and told me to go over there at midnight,” Brown said. “He would slip me in through a side door nobody knows about. So, I went down the aisle and sat next to the remains of this wonderful little Catholic saint.”
“I put my hand right on her coffin and prayed for my family and some friends I knew who were having a difficult time,” he continued. “I got thinking if this wonderful beautiful child could forgive the terrible thing that happened to her then shouldn’t I be big enough to forgive these fellas who did aweful things to me that I’m very bitter about. I thought about it, stood up, and said, ‘Nah! I’m not ready yet.’”
As he fielded questions from the floor, Brown shared memories of his claim to fame. “The winningest coach in NCAA history was Dean Smith who was at the University of North Carolina,” Brown said.
“When he first got the job, he came to my high school in St. Louis. He drove up in a beat up old station wagon with a U-Haul trailer on it and his two daughters in the car. He said he just took the job and asked if I would go with him to be his first recruit. So, I did.”
Brown continued, “I always kidded with him since I was his first recruit then I was his number 1. Some guy named Michael Jordan came along after me.”
Brown played freshman ball at North Carolina but then took up the hurdles and other track-and-field events.
“I thought I could make the United States Olympic team,” he said, “so I gave up basketball and started running.”
He added, “I was on the same team with “Bullet” Bob Hayes, and I handed off to Hayes on the American 400-meter relay team.”
Brown’s book sells for $20.00 a copy, and all of the proceeds benefit the Autism Foundation of Louisiana.