Former state Rep. Jewel Joseph Newman, a longtime community activist who labored for years to better not just his home district of Scotlandville but the entire city of Baton Rouge, died Saturday.
He was 93 and a World War II veteran.
“Jewel was the hardest-working elected official I knew, including me,” former City Councilman and state Rep. Joe Delpit said Monday night. “There wasn’t a person who needed help that Jewel would not get out of his bed at midnight to see about helping him.”
Newman served as a city councilman from 1972-84 and state legislator from 1984-88. Delpit said that service including paving the way for the first community centers in Baton Rouge and bringing the predecessor of the DARE program to parish schools.
The Jewel J. Newman Community Center, on Central Road just off Interstate 110 North, was named in his honor. Newman also started the first Little League baseball team in Scotlandville.
Before his years of public service, Newman served his country in the U.S. Army from 1941-45, achieving the rank of sergeant 4th class, after joining the Enlisted Reserve Corps program at Southern University.
In 1972, while recovering from a long illness and at the urging of Scotlandville residents, Newman ran for and won a spot on the then-City Council, where he served until winning a seat in the state House of Representatives in 1984.
In that election, he defeated current East Baton Rouge Parish Mayor-President Kip Holden, the man who would take the legislative seat from Newman four years later in 1988.
Despite their roles as political adversaries during those races, Holden said, he respected Newman as a public servant.
“I think a lot of people without a doubt will say that he paid special attention to the needs of people in the district he represented, which is also the district I grew up in,” Holden said. “If someone called to say they had a problem with their ditch, he would go out to the home himself to see what the problem was.”
Newman often dispensed advice to Holden, speaking to him like a son about how he needed to conduct himself and things Holden needed to do in the political arena, the mayor-president said.
While in the Legislature in 1985, Baton Rouge faced a budget crisis that resulted in the closing of three food stamp offices in north Baton Rouge.
Newman raised the money to stop that from happening through his Help Our People for East Baton Rouge fund-raising program. He set up bingo games at the then-Riverside Centroplex to raise the $14,075 needed to keep the food stamp offices open.
Upon his retirement from the Legislature in 1988 after losing to Holden, Newman continued to help people, especially at the Society of St. Vincent de Paul Dining Hall, where he would sit down with the poor and needy listen to their concerns.
Michael Acaldo, president and CEO of St. Vincent de Paul, said he joined the organization 25 years ago and Newman immediately became a mentor to him.
“He shared of himself, gave of himself,” Acaldo said.
Newman helped Acaldo and St. Vincent de Paul expand its dining room, open the Bishop Ott shelters for women and children and for men, and create the shelter’s thrift store for the needy.
Newman even went before the Metro Council in 1996 and got the street in front of St. Vincent de Paul renamed to St. Vincent de Paul Place after the organization served its first million meals.
“It was all about helping people, and the poorer or more needy you were, the more attention you got from Jewel,” Acaldo said. “He quietly laid his mark on the greater Baton Rouge community and really made a difference.”