Meet Camille F. Gravel

Camille Francis Gravel, Jr. 
1915 - 2005

Camille Gravel, adviser to three Louisiana governors, dead at 90
12/23/2005, 3:56 p.m. CT
The Associated Press

ALEXANDRIA, La. (AP) - Camille Gravel, an adviser to three governors and an important political figure in Louisiana for more than five decades, died Friday afternoon at a nursing home in Alexandria, his son said. He was 90. "He had heart surgery back in February and never really recovered from it," said Mark Gravel.

He died shortly before 2 p.m. at Naomi Heights nursing home in Alexandria.

Gravel was a skilled civil and criminal attorney with a keen political mind and a courtly manner. He was an adviser to three larger-than-life Louisiana governors - Earl K. Long, John McKeithen and Edwin Edwards. And he would serve as one of Edwards' defense lawyers when the scandal-tinged governor, now serving a prison sentence for a 2000 racketeering conviction, went to trial for the first time in the 1980s.

Gravel never held political office, although he tried a low-key effort in 1966 to unseat U.S. Sen. Allen J. Ellender. He said in a 1979 Associated Press interview that the best spot in politics is behind the throne.

Gravel, who pronounced his name Grah-VEL', was an early civil rights activist who attracted national attention when he led the state's delegation at the Democratic National Convention in 1948 instead of joining the Southern Dixiecrat walkout.

"He was a civil rights advocate before there was anyone in the South who believed in civil rights. He believed in equality," said Michael Baer, a former Louisiana Senate secretary who practiced law with Gravel in the 1970s.

Long handpicked Gravel to run for attorney general in 1956 but the job paid little and Gravel, raising a large family, turned down the chance. Eventually, his relationship with Long soured. By the late 1950s, when the state's political warcry was segregation, Gravel was one of the prominent white political figures who did not join the mainstream.

"Purely as a moral proposition, I think segregation is wrong," Gravel said in 1959.

While others beat the drums for segregation, he turned his attention to the 1960 presidential campaign of a man he befriended at the 1956 Democratic National Convention, John F. Kennedy. Gravel coordinated the state campaign that put Louisiana in Kennedy's camp.

Gravel reminisced about the victory in 1974 on an election night when state voters approved a new state constitution that Gravel had helped fashion.

"The Kennedy victory in Louisiana was my best moment in politics," Gravel said. "The victory tonight is next best."

In Edwards' first two administrations in the 1970s, most of the governor's key legislation was drafted by Gravel.

Gravel resigned in 1979 after the death of his wife of nearly 40 years, Katherine David Gravel. In 1980, he married Evelyn Gianfala, who survives him.

Edwards got informal counsel from Gravel in his last two administrations and appointed his friend to the LSU Board of Supervisors.

What caused three governors, all different in outlook, to turn to Gravel?

"He had the ability to see both sides of a question and a knowledge of the law, and most important, to use those two qualities to work with legislators and reach a principled compromise," Edwards, now in a federal prison for racketeering, said in an interview years ago.

Edwards first met Gravel in the 1950s when they were adversaries in several civil court cases. Later, they were political adversaries. Gravel was active in Earl Long's 1956 campaign and Edwards was heading the camp for New Orleans Mayor Chep Morrison.

When Edwards' political career started blossoming, he turned to Gravel because "modestly said, both of us were decades ahead of most others in the South about the need to establish a black-white relationship for peaceful tranquility between the races, better education and job opportunities for blacks. I think we did that."

Gravel went to Edwards' aid in the mid 1980s when the governor was tried in federal court for illegally brokering hospital permits. First came a hung jury and then an acquittal at a second trial.

Gravel also was one of Edwards' attorneys in the federal racketeering case that led to Edwards' 2000 conviction. That conviction is still under appeal.The Alexandria attorney also successfully defended the late U.S. Rep. Otto Passman of Monroe in a 1979 bribery and conspiracy trial.