Louisiana's political landscape is populated with lots of interesting characters, but not many are people of great character. Only a few are both. We lost one of those few recently when political consultant Ray Teddlie died on Feb. 4 after a long battle against Parkinson's disease. He was 59.
Teddlie got his start as a political consultant in the 1970s under the legendary Ray Strother, who also mentored James Carville. In fact, Teddlie and Carville both worked on one of Strother's first New Orleans campaigns — the mayoral bid of Joseph DiRosa in 1977. DiRosa lost the runoff to Dutch Morial in that transformational contest; Morial became New Orleans' first African-American mayor.
Strother remembers Teddlie as a "brilliant copywriter" who also had a lovable and hilarious knack for bungling. He recalled the time they went to visit a friend at a local marina, and when Strother asked Teddlie to retrieve his wallet from the trunk of his car, Teddlie accidentally tossed the wallet and all its contents into the water. "He missed," Strother laughed. "That was a typical day with Ray."
Carville remembers Teddlie fondly from their early days in the business. "He was different than most political consultants because he was such an avid reader — and he was drop-dead funny," Carville says. "Ray had a sense of humor that was unique. Few people in this business had knowledge that was as broad as his, and his humor was deep and sophisticated."
Teddlie handled the media for Kathleen Blanco's successful run for governor in 2003, when she beat Bobby Jindal in a heated runoff. Blanco and her husband, Raymond "Coach" Blanco, became two of Teddlie's closest friends.
"Ray was a brilliant man who understood human nature and knew how to tap into the goodness of people," she says. "He was sensitive, and he used the subtlety of emotion quite effectively in his work. And he was fun to work with, so much so that we enjoyed helping on his other campaigns. ... Ray was hands down the smartest man I ever met in Louisiana, and I've met a lot of smart people in my time."
Teddlie had a vast array of clients. They included former Louisiana Supreme Court Chief Justice Pascal Calogero Jr., Justice Jeannette Theriot Knoll, state Attorney General Buddy Caldwell, former Mayor Sidney Barthelemy, former U.S. Rep. Bob Livingston, Jefferson Parish District Attorney Paul Connick Jr., Clerk of Civil District Court Dale Atkins, Orleans Parish Sheriff Marlin Gusman, Public Service Commissioner Lambert Boissiere III, more than a dozen area judges.
Atkins, who was a Teddlie client as well as a fellow adviser to Blanco, remembers him as a man with many gifts. "Two of these gifts were his big heart and his gift of words," she says. "It was his caring heart that made his clients more than clients. Ray developed relationships with his clients that transcended business and political relations. He portrayed his clients as humans and showed a softer side. It was this gift of words that enabled him to write on paper what he felt in his heart. As caring as Ray was, he also was someone that you wanted in the trenches. He was a tenacious fighter."
Sadly, he lost his toughest fight of all against Parkinson's. Through that long campaign, however, he remained active on behalf of his clients. And I never heard him complain about his illness or his fate. That kind of character is rare anywhere, even more so in politics.