Cecil Ray Blair (April 2, 1916 - July 6, 2001) was a Rapides Parish farmer and businessman who was a Democratic member of both houses of the Louisiana State Legislature during the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s. He served in the Louisiana House of Representatives from 1952-1956. His service in the Louisiana State Senate came in two segments, 1960-1964 and 1966-1976.
He lived, first, in the Paradise Community north of the Red River in northern Rapides Parish and, later, on Jackson Street Extension in Alexandria. He is most associated, however, with his farm near Lecompte (pronounced LEA COUNT), a community located south of Alexandria, the Rapides Parish seat of government and the largest city in central Louisiana.
After he graduated from Sicily Island High School in 1934, 18-year-old Cecil Blair, with virtually no money, went to Ruston, the seat of Lincoln Parish to attend Louisiana Tech University. He worked his way through college and completed a bachelor of science degree in biology in 1938. At Tech, he met the love of his life, the former Virginia Susan Ruth "Susie" George (March 4, 1917 - May 1, 2005). After graduation, Cecil decided to enroll in graduate school at Louisiana State University to procure a master of science degree in his chosen field of entomology, and Susie joined him at LSU to complete her studies.
Susie Blair, the daughter of the Reverend Albert George and the former Ruth Hoffpauir, grew up in Methodist parsonages throughout the state. She was born in the village of Bonita in Morehouse Parish in northeast Louisiana. Susie was an author of two children's books, which focused on life around the Blair farm. The book Easter Pony received international acclaim and was listed as one of the year's best books by the American Library Association in the year it was published. She also had unrealized talent for art, which particularly showed up in the next generation through her older son and younger daughter.
The couple moved to Alexandria in 1940. They had four children: Rebecca "Becky" Blair Tisdale (born 1942), Richard "Nippy" Blair (born 1943), Robert Blair (born 1948), all of Alexandria, and Jane Blair Couvillon (1950-1988: a cancer victim). Becky is a retired teacher and the widow of history professor Garry Lee Tisdale, a native of Tyler, Texas. Tisdale began teaching at Louisiana State University at Alexandria in 1966. He died of brain cancer in 2000 at the age of fifty-six, and LSUA subsequently honored him with the naming of Garry Tisdale Drive on the campus. Robert "Bobby" Blair runs the Blair farm and Blair's former vegetable stand called the "Old Gray Mule", a favorite gathering place for Louisiana politicos off U.S. Highway 71 near the farm. It was at the Old Gray Mule that Blair developed his skills as a raconteur. He dubbed his farm "The Sweet Corn Capital of Louisiana." Nippy Blair is a well-known regional artist and the building superintendent of Emmanuel Baptist Church in downtown Alexandria.
As a House member, Blair supported farmers who needed open range lands. During the administration of Governor Robert F. Kennon, Blair authored the bill to fence the highways to keep roaming cattle off the roads. He worked to obtain the relocation to Alexandria of St. Mary's Training School for the handicapped. In the Senate, Blair pushed for the creation of Buhlow Lake adjacent to the Red River in Pineville, where popular boat races are held. In the House multi-district, Blair served with two colleagues from Rapides Parish, Lloyd George Teekell and H.N. Goff. In effect, Blair replaced W. George Bowdon, Jr., who left the legislature after a single term to run successfully for mayor of Alexandria in 1953.
Blair worked for the establishment of the original two-year LSUA, which is located near his Lecompte farm in south Rapides Parish. Years later, the school was given four-year status, a breakthrough which came only a few weeks before Blair's death.
Blair was known for his constituent services and his efforts to improve Louisiana Highway 1 between Shreveport and Baton Rouge. He also supported highway beautification and personally planted flowers along U.S. Highway 71 near his farm. He opposed having the office of state superintendent of education be made appointive, having explaiend that would prefer the judgment of three million voters, rather than a small group deciding who should hold the top post in education.
Blair first ran for the state Senate in 1956 but was defeated in the Earl Long landslide by the Longite choice, Crawford Hugh "Sammy" Downs, of Alexandria. In 1960, Blair unseated Downs in the Democratic primary. In 1964, Blair was beaten by George Ray Lee, who died in office midway through his term. In the 1966 special election to replace Lee, Blair waged a victorious comeback. He won again in 1968 and 1972.
In his last Senate term, Blair was also elected on a nonpartisan ballot as a delegate to the 1973 Louisiana Constitutional Convention, which drafted the state's current framework of government, as approved by voters in the spring of 1974.
In 1987, Blair attempted to regain the Senate seat. He and outgoing state Representative Jock Scott, then a convert to the Republican Party, challenged McPherson, who had the support of organized labor. McPherson polled 16,950 (51 percent) in the primary and hence retained the seat outright. Scott trailed with 12,346 votes (37 percent). Blair netted 4,245 votes (13 percent). In 1995, Blair once more attempted to regain the Senate seat but failed to make the general election runoff in a field of seven candidates. The Senate seat was won by the Reverend B. G. Dyess, (campaigning against gambling) the retired Rapides Parish Registrar of Voters and a Baptist minister. Dyess served for four years and, because of his wife's health, did not seek a second term. McPherson made an unsuccessful bid for Public Service Commissioner in 1995 and lost, therefore setting out 1996-2000. McPherson returned to the Senate in 2000 and is a candidate for a third consecutive term in the jungle primary pending on October 20, 2007.
Blair was active in community affairs, having been a former president of the Alexandria-Pineville Chamber of Commerce and the Kiwanis Club. In the late 1950s, while he was returning from church with his family when the Blairs resided in the Paradise community, he once saved from drowning two young men that he saw floundering in the Red River from an overturned boat.
Blair, who had smoked cigars since he was a teenager, died of heart failure at St. Luke's Episcopal Hospital in Houston. He had undergone open-heart surgery for a valve replacement. While he appeared to have recovered from the surgery itself, his systems shut down thereafter. Politicos from throughout central Louisiana attended the funeral, including legendary attorney Camille F. Gravel, Jr., Rapides Parish Sheriff William Earl Hilton, then Alexandria Mayor Randolph, who had ended Blair's Senate career, and District Attorney James "Jam" Downs, the son of Blair's old rival C.H. Downs.
The Reverend Larry Taylor, pastor of Blair's Emmanuel Baptist Church, said that the first time he met Blair he thought that he had seen "a figure who had stepped out of the pages of southern literature." Taylor lamented that "Even someone with a heart as big as Cecil R. Blair's couldn't keep going forever. Cecil had a big heart that finally gave out."
Cecil and Susie Blair are interred in Greenwood Memorial Park in Pineville.
"Membership of the Louisiana State Senate since 1880" (Baton Rouge: Secretary of State)
"Membership of the Louisiana House of Representatives since 1880" (Baton Rouge: Secretary of State)
"Louisiana Election Statistics, 1983 and 1987" (Baton Rouge: Secretary of State) http://www.sos.louisiana.gov:8090/cgibin/?rqstyp=elcpr&rqsdta=10248740 (1987 link only)
Alexandria Daily Town Talk, April 16, 2000; July 8, 2001; May 30, 2005
Steve Bannister, "Farewell: Cecil Blair Was an Original", Alexandria Daily Town Talk, July 11, 2001, p. 1
Lucille Blair of Deville, Louisiana, Blair family records