Mary Lynn Watkins, who for more than two decades trained Mardi Gras royalty and their courts in Carnival protocol, died Dec. 4 at Tulane Medical Center after a long battle with lupus. She would have turned 57 on Dec. 5.
Watkins, who was known as Lynn, graduated from St. Martin’s Episcopal School and attended LSU before earning her undergraduate degree from Mount Vernon College for Women in Washington, D.C.
She lived in Connecticut, New York, South Carolina, Massachusetts, Maryland and Texas before returning to New Orleans in 1992.
Since her return to her hometown, Watkins spent much of her time training Carnival kings and queens in royal protocol and preserving the traditions of the celebration.
“Mardi Gras was her life,” said businessman John P. “Jack” Laborde, who reigned as Rex this year.
Laborde said Watkins’ illness prevented her from working with him this year, though he wanted her to. He said he went to her house to let her know he would be Rex, and Watkins started crying.
“We kind of didn’t get anything done that day because she was emotionally spent,” Laborde said. He later found out that she was hospitalized the day after his visit and so would be unable to work with him for his reign as king of Carnival.
But Laborde also recalled an earlier time when Watkins was of immense help. When he was named captain of the Krewe of Osiris several years ago, Watkins was “the first lady I went to,” he said.
Laborde said he told Watkins he wanted to create a new Osiris ball from scratch.
“I said, ‘I want a whole new deal,’ ” he said. Watkins and her father, a former krewe captain, worked with him to create the new ball he wanted, Laborde said.
“She was delightful,” he said. “She helped me a lot personally.”
Peggy Laborde, who is not related to Jack Laborde, said she remembers watching Watkins at work during a rehearsal for the Rex ball. Ball participants included people of all ages, from adults to young children.
“Boy, she just kept everybody in line,” she said. “But she was never overly stern.”
“It’s a great honor for their families, and you want to look like you’re doing this the correct way,” she said. “They made it look very seamless.”
Jack Laborde recalled watching her work during the Osiris ball.
“She would sit in the back with flashlights, and the girls (members of the court) would react off her flashlight flashes,” he said. He said Watkins wouldn’t reveal to him what her signals meant, but the ball participants knew what they were supposed to do when they saw the lights.
Watkins worked with more than a dozen Carnival organizations.
She was a member of the Orleans Club, the New Orleans Country Club, Chi Omega Fraternity and the Junior League. She was founding member of Ladies in Red, a group of friends who celebrate each year at the Rex luncheon.
Survivors include her parents, Marylin and Eben T. “Buddy” Watkins III, and a sister, Lois Smitherman.
A service was held last week. Lake Lawn Metairie Funeral Home was in charge of arrangements.