James M. Cain, whose three-decade career at New Orleans Public Service Inc. led him to the utility’s top job and a deep involvement in civic life, died Tuesday in New Orleans. He was 82.
Born in Baton Rouge, Cain moved to New Orleans in 1951 to attend Tulane University on a football scholarship. He graduated four years later with a degree in business administration. After four years in the Army, he enrolled at Tulane for a second time, earning an MBA in 1959.
“Once he started down that path, he was driven to constantly do better, and I think that stuck with him,” his son, James H. Cain, said Wednesday.
The elder Cain started his career at NOPSI, the city’s electricity and gas supplier, as a research assistant in the early 1960s. Over three decades, he climbed the ranks of the company, working his way up to vice president of administration. In 1975, he was named executive vice president and then president and CEO of Middle South Services Inc., a related company. Three years later, he was in charge of NOPSI. By 1983, he was tapped to be president and later chairman and CEO of sister company Louisiana Power & Light.
In 1991, when Entergy Corp. had become the parent company of NOPSI and LP&L, Cain was named vice chairman of the utility giant, a spot he held until retiring in 1993.
“He wasn’t the smartest guy in the room, but he was the guy who could get the smartest people to agree to something,” his son said. “He just had incredible personal skills.”
Cain had a natural talent for working together with other business and civic leaders to solve some of the city’s issues, his son said, noting that when financial issues threatened to leave the cash-strapped New Orleans World’s Fair in the dark in 1984, Cain helped broker a deal to keep the fair open.
“When it was time to do something, to figure out a solution, he could get consensus because he was able to work along with people and get them not to do his bidding, but to at least get things pushed along,” his son said.
Over the years, Cain served on the boards of a number of local organizations and companies, including the New Orleans Foundation and Whitney National Bank. He also was a former member of the boards of the Port of New Orleans, Arts Council of New Orleans, Boy Scouts of America, Urban League of Greater New Orleans, Dillard University and Children’s Hospital, among others.
He remained active with Tulane, which presented him with a lifetime achievement award in 1998.
Cain reigned as Rex, King of Carnival, in 1994.
“He wasn’t from New Orleans. He came here, he got educated here, and then he didn’t leave,” his son said. “He just said, ‘You know, I’m going to do everything I can for this city.’ ”
He suffered a stroke a few years after reigning as Rex and had been in declining health in recent years.
Survivors include his wife, Barbara Cain, and two children, James H. Cain, of Texas, and Beverly Cain Dowling, of Ohio.
Visitation will be from 9:30 a.m. to noon Tuesday at Lake Lawn Metairie Funeral Home, 5100 Pontchartrain Blvd., followed by a memorial service.