Charles C. deGravelles

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Longtime Lafayette resident Charles C. deGravelles, who was a founder of the modern Republican Party in Louisiana, died at his Azalea Street home on Thursday, Aug. 28, 2008, at age 95. DeGravelles was dearly loved for his generosity, contagious optimism, wit and wisdom, which formed and shaped his family, friends and everyone who met him. He was born in Morgan City on June 24, 1913, to Dr. Charles C. deGravelles and the former Mary Eleanor Nations. Charlie graduated from Thibodaux High School in 1930. He attended LSU and LSU Law School from 1930-1936. He was proud to be in the LSU band. He was employed by Amoco Production Co. for 40 years before running his own independent oil leasing and abstracting company in Lafayette. He is survived by his wife of 73 years, the former Virginia Wheadon, of Alexandria; daughter, Claire Cloninger and her husband, Spike, of Fairhope, Ala.; daughter, Ann McBride Norton and her husband, Ed, of Bali, Indonesia; sons, John deGravelles and his wife, Jan, and the Rev. Charles deGravelles and his wife, Angela, all of Baton Rouge; grandchildren, Paul Begneaud, of Lafayette, Jeanne Richardson, of Covington, Andre Begneaud, of Houston, Claire McBride, of San Francisco, Curt Cloninger, of Canton, N.C., Mary McBride, of New York, Marc Begneaud, of Lafayette, Andy Cloninger, of Daphne, Ala., Dr. Eliot deGravelles, of Dallas, Neale deGravelles, of Baton Rouge, Dr. Meg deGravelles, of Tacoma, Wash., Kate deGravelles, of Washington, D.C., and Will deGravelles, of Clemson, S.C.; great-grandchildren, Jacob Begneaud, Gabriel Begneaud, Matt Begneaud, Mary Grace Richardson, Beau Begneaud, Nicholas Begneaud, Luc Begneaud, Kaylee Cloninger, Drew Cloninger, Reed Cloninger, Sam Cloninger, Caroline Cloninger, Jordan Cloninger, Robin Cloninger, James Cloninger and Rainier deGravelles; and a great-great-granddaughter, Tatum Begneaud. He is also survived by a sister-in-law, Nyada deGravelles; nieces, Pam Gouner and Trudy Bourgeois; and nephew, J.P. deGravelles. Preceded in death by his beloved daughter, Alix deGravelles; parents, Charles and Mary deGravelles; aunt, Elizabeth Nations Roth; an uncle who raised him, E.N. Roth Jr.; brother, Norbert "Nobby" deGravelles; sister, Martha Marcantel; and granddaughter, Jenny deGravelles. DeGravelles and his wife, Virginia, became two of the first registered Republicans in Lafayette when they moved there in 1941. They believed that Louisiana would never escape corruption without a strong two-party system. In the following years, deGravelles played a major role in building the Louisiana Republican Party from a small organization that he jokingly said "could meet in a phone booth" to the predominant political party in the state that later elected three Republican governors and many congressmen in his lifetime. DeGravelles was a National Republican Committee member as well as state Republican chairman from 1968-72. Charles and Virginia were the only married couple to serve on the Republican National Committee at the same time. The deGravelles's worked with many presidents, including Presidents Gerald Ford and Ronald Reagan. They were particularly close to President Reagan, a relationship that started when Charlie invited Reagan to Louisiana in 1964 to give a political speech during Charlton Lyons' candidacy for governor. Lyons' bid fell short, but it served as a strong declaration that the state GOP was on the move. In 1984, Virginia and Charles deGravelles were honored by the Freedom Foundation of Valley Forge to receive jointly the George Washington Medal of Honor. In 2007, the deGravelles's were inducted into the Louisiana Political Hall of Fame. DeGravelles will be fondly remembered as a mentor to political aspirants, young Republicans and many elected officials. He also spent countless hours training young oil-and-gas lease brokers and abstractors. He taught oil-and-gas law at the University of Southwestern Louisiana from 1955-62. He led a major campaign for the first Salvation Army lodge in Lafayette, making others aware of the needs of the poor and homeless. He was a friend, benefactor and foster parent to many. The family extends a sincere thank you to special friends Claudia Brosius, Sidney Creaghan, Mary Ann Bernard, Brenda Laborde, Kathy Davis, Susan Horton, Pam Armbruster, Francine Guillory, Judy Hebert, Toni and Buddy Bennett, and the Rev. John Clark, and to his caretakers, Dorothy Joseph, Riva Daigle, Vanessa Batiste and Vanessa Landry, Deborah Sam, and Heart of Hospice. Visitation with the family will be on Saturday, Sept. 6, from 9 a.m. until a memorial service at 11 a.m. at The Episcopal Church of the Ascension, 1030 Johnston St., Lafayette. Officiating will be the Rev. Morgan Allen, the Rev. John Clark, of St. Barnabas Episcopal Church, and the Rev. Charles N. deGravelles, of Trinity Episcopal Church, Baton Rouge. Memorial donations may be made to the Salvation Army of Lafayette, 212 Sixth St., Lafayette, LA 70501 or Heart of Hospice, 1105 Kaliste Saloom Road, Lafayette, LA 70508.
Published in TheAdvocate.com from Aug. 29 to Sept. 5, 2008