The aging former governor and his new wife arrived in his native Marksville about 3:15 Tuesday afternoon for his first trip to Avoyelles since his release from prison.
It had been about ten years since he was last in Avoyelles Parish.
With his priorities in order of friendship, the Marksville native and his wife Trina stopped first at the home of Raymond and Nell Laborde for a few minutes before moving onto the Paragon.
Edwards and Laborde exchanged hugs in Laborde's driveway when Edwards stepped out of his car, but not until after the former governor quipped about the political sign in the front yard "Don't tell me there is another Laborde running for office", in reference to the sign for Laborde's nephew who is running for Clerk of Court.
Laborde and Marc Dupuy, Jr, who were classmates and fellow graduates with Edwin from Marksville in 1944, shared some stories from their days growng up. Laborde had a roast pig and cracklins from Lonis Kelone ready for the governor, and Nell Laborde had a fresh cake she baked earlier in the day sitting on the table. Edwards said he was not leaving until he tasted the cake. He made his point and cut it himself and offered a plate to everyone in the room.
Edwards and Laborde have maintained a strong friendship their entire lives, with Laborde serving in the legislature and as Commissioner of Administration while Edwards served as governor. Edwards appointed Dupuy as a member to the Louisiana Wildlife Commission. Laborde said he kept in contact with his friend during Edwards' jail sentence.
"The amazing thing is that Gov. Edwards always knew what was going on in politics while in jail," he said. "I would always talk to him on Sunday mornings. He always told me he would live to walk out of jail."
At the Laborde home, the two couples, Edwards and Labordes along with Dupuy drank coffee for a few minutes at the kitchen table. Edwards shared a couple of light stories about his classmates with avoyellestoday.com this afternoon. He said "Raymond used to get all kind of money for projects when he was in the legislature...I used to tell the other legislators...you better not help him get re-elected...he will cost the state a fortune.
"And let me tell you about Marc, when he was a kid, he rode his bike to my house, bringing a 22 rifle with him. He pointed in the sky and said I am going to shoot the first one of three birds. He shot once, and hit the bird in the head, and the first bird fell to the ground. I bet he never did that in his life again...but what he did not tell you was he was aiming at the third bird."
The three men went down the list of who was still alive in their fellow classmates. "The last reunion was at the mansion", we will have to do it again, before there are just two of us left to have a reunion".
He also told avoyellestoday about his father's compassion and inspiration. "True story," he said, "when I would ride the school bus back home, and see some black children walking home. I asked my daddy why was that....and he told me...that was wrong, and my generation would have to fix it".
Edwards said he will always love Avoyelles Parish and its people. As the famous politician, who just turned 84 drove himself into Marksville, he said he slowed down as he entered on Highway One to see his his old home place. "I saw the pecan trees my father planted", referring to the pecan orchard on the property now belonging to Brian Caubarreaux .
He spoke fondly of his favorite teacher at Marksville, Beatrice Hayes. "I really had a crush on her in seventh grade, so I studied hard to try to impress her. She had red hair. But you know when I was first elected governor, I was speaking at the Louisiana Association of Educators, and told the story of how much this teacher inspired me.
When I mentioned her name, there was applause and commotion from within the crowd. She was there! She walked up to the podium after the speech and we had a good visit."
Edwards paused, then continued somberly "Then, while I was in prison, my daughter received a phone call from a man who said to 'tell your father Beatrice Hayes is dying'. So I wrote her a letter. And she received it two days before she died. Her son later called my daughter and told her when she read my letter, she cried for thirty minutes. That touched me."
THE BOOK SIGNING
The Edwards couple arrived at the Paragon Hotel about 4:15 and were being hosted, along with biographer Leo Honeycutt in one of the penthouses as they prepared for the book signing. Edwards and his wife gave a short speech in the Mari Center before he began signing books.
Kenneth Farbes, of Pariagon, and a friend of Edwards, said they filmed some promotional shots with the four term governor on the casino floor.
About three hundred Edward fans lined up for the book signing. Edwards signed autographs for three hours from 6:30 to 9:30, visiting for at least a few seconds with each person in line.
In line were people who remembered him in his days in Marksville, as well as some who had never met him before. Syvlia Normand Gremillion, whose photo is in the book as a teenager with Edwin and his brothers, stopped by to see her old friend. Ralph Schwartzenburg, long time brother in law of Edwards, waited patiently in line to tell Edwards hello and have his book signed. Tonya Guillory, who lives in Hickory Hill, talked with Edwards about his birthplace not too far from her home on Red River at the Johnson Community. He told Gullory he had good memories of the large, white store of William St. Clergy on the Moncla highway.
The Marksville Lions Club had invited Edwards for the homecoming, and Laborde asked the Paragon to host the event. At the book signing table were the Edwards, Honeycutt and Laborde. At Laborde's side was his son Lions Club member Charles Laborde.
Laborde said the event was one of the nicest things he had been involved with. "The Tunica-Biloxi were very organized and helpful with the event. I told Mary Barby several times how much we appreciated what they did."
The Edwards left for their Gonzales home about 10pm. "We have to be back tonight, he told Kelone earlier in the day, Trina's children have school in the morning," Edwards had wanted to stop at Kelone's store in Mansura to check some of the unique Avoyelles meat products.
Before coming to Avoyelles, Edwards was the guest speaker at the Tuesday noon meeting of the Alexandria Rotary Club. Laborde's nephew, John Ed Laborde, catered the event of some 400 people. "John Ed told me they had a tremendous showing for Edwin, three standing ovations."
Dr. Peter Couvillon, another Marksville native was in attendance and said Edwards told the Alexandria group that his first job ever was in 1936 as a waterboy for the WPA Red River levee building project during the depression in Moncla.
Edwarda made 15 cents an hour then, and in his more recent job at the federal prison made 20 cents an hour.
Couvillon wrote in an email : "The man has not lost his speaking touch nor his appeal to the general public and was truly appreciative of all the support while in Federal prison."