Before he passed away, former lawmaker and 'country lawyer' Pappy Triche did what he could to bury his own legacy of hate and leave a mark on Louisiana politics.
Risley "Pappy" Triche, a former Democratic member of the state House and at one time a noted segregationist who softened his views on race over time, died last week of complications related to a stroke he suffered several years ago. An attorney by trade, Triche would have been 85 in August. The flamboyant state lawmaker was inducted into the Louisiana Political Hall of Fame in 2010.
After serving as alderman and mayor in his hometown of Napoleonville, Triche was appointed to the House of Representatives by then-Gov. Robert Kennon in 1955. He went on to become a floor leader under former Govs. Jimmie Davis and Edwin Edwards, helping both men advance their agendas.
His slogan became known far and wide: "Stay Happy with Pappy." For many, however, his early brand of race-driven politics sounded anything but happy, although his champions are quick to point out that a number of influences eventually helped change his views.
Over the span of two decades in the Legislature, Triche went from fighting desegregation in New Orleans schools to backing legislation to protect minorities against job discrimination.
In fact, toward the end of his political career, he stood before the House and apologized for the role he had played years earlier in passing some of the most racist laws in the nation. He began by acknowledging that some would dismiss him as an old segregationist.
"The only reply I can make to that, gentlemen, is that yes, that occurred," he said. "And at that time in the state of development of the history of our state we thought that we were correct. And we now find that we were wrong ... I did not want to leave my children with the legacy that their daddy was a bigot and a racist. I am not a bigot and a racist."
Triche capped off the speech with a simple request: "Let us join hands with all people of this state, black and white, regardless of race, creed, or color, for the advancement and betterment of our state and nation."
His final year in the House in 1975 was marked by an unsuccessful run for attorney general. Years later, in 2004, Triche made an emotional appeal to state lawmakers in what would become one of his last official commentaries in the Capitol.
As lawmakers debated a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage, Triche asked them not to do so, revealing that his son had been murdered some 20 years earlier because he was gay. "You will create division," Triche told lawmakers, according to Associated Press reports. "You will create hatred."
Former Congressman Charlie Melancon, another Democrat from Napoleonville, said part of Triche's legacy can be found in law books and courtroom lore. "They say he used to look at a judge and jury at the beginning of a trial and claim to be an old country lawyer," Melancon recalled. "But he was smart, an unbelievable attorney, actually."
A graduate of LSU Law School, Triche successfully defended a client in the early 1980s BriLab investigation, a federal corruption case that involved top state officials and Louisiana Mafia boss Carlos Marcello. In 1986, Triche defended Edwards associate Gus Mijalis in federal court after two nursing home operators accused him of taking $100,000 in exchange for helping them obtain a license.
"But his real legacy is his children," Melancon said. They include U.S. District Judge Jane Margaret Triche-Milazzo, who was recently appointed to the federal bench by President Barack Obama, and Assumption Parish Police Jury President Martin "Marty" Triche.
Jeremy Alford can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.