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Lou Gehrig Burnett, 1941-2018

On Jan. 7, as I had done almost every other Sunday for about 15 years, I sent my column to the publisher of Fax-Net Update, Lou Burnett. It was that night, after the New Orleans Saints had triumphed in their playoff game, which put a smile on my face and I knew would on Lou’s as well. The next day, the edition that was supposed to have my piece came out, reading only this:

Delays delays delays.  Seems old man winter has hit the staff of Fax-Net with the bug thats going around.

We muist have been on Santa's naughty list ater all.

We will publish again as we can.  Sorry for the delay.

It’s been one of the worst flu seasons in a long time, so bad that my wife, who is severely immuno-compromised, has kept me in the house where I leave only to gather food and occasionally go to campus. Lou was 76 and a heavy smoker all his life, plus the misspellings should have jogged me to give his ailment at least a second thought.

Stupidly, I didn’t. Lou died 11 days later. We didn’t hit it off at first, more than a quarter-century ago. That’s because we were on opposite sides of a campaign, so to speak. Although new around town at that time, I became known fairly quickly in Republican circles and supported GOP former Rep. Jim McCrery in his 1992 contest, the year the state acknowledged a loss of a congressional district and as a result slammed him and former Rep. Jerry Huckaby, a Democrat, into the same district.

As Lou served as Huckaby’s administrative assistant, of course he campaigned vigorously for him and against McCrery, and I suspect some tactics employed against Jim were cooked up by Lou. Jim won, prompting Lou to retire from the Washington scene.

Not that coming here was like a banishment to Lou. In his work for first former Rep. F. Edward Hebert and then Huckaby, he had interacted with former Rep. Joe Waggoner and area political elites. This is when I formally met Lou, as we began to appear on the same election-night panels, talk shows, and in the same media publications. His knowledge of Louisiana politics was vast, and he quickly had immersed himself into the local scene.

After a few years on the sidelines observing local politics, former Shreveport Mayor Bo Williams tapped Lou to be his executive assistant, but after Williams lost reelection, Lou permanently took up his pen and wrote news and opinion columns. Not long after leaving city service, he took over Fax-Net Update, which back then really did come via FAX.

And not long after that, when I returned from sabbatical that I spent teaching and performing other duties at the University of Illinois Springfield, with my wife, Lou asked me to write for Fax-Net. So, before there was writing for PoliticsLA (anybody remember that?), BayouBuzz, this blog Between the Lines (named after my Fax-Net column), Hanna Publications, and the Baton Rouge Advocate, there was Fax-Net.

Lou and I kept running into each other on various shows, as well as my feeding him a column on area politics every two weeks. For someone needing the inside scoop around the area, probably no one could do better than Lou with all of his contacts – although a media outlet here or there would irritate him and then he subsequently would refuse to do any interviews with it.

It’s kind of odd writing this, for in Fax-Net (which I suspect we’ll not see again) he wrote several such pieces like this for guys like James Q. Wellborn and Charles Nickel, and now here I am doing it for him. The only good coming out of his leaving us now is in less than two weeks from now he would have suffered his annual aggravation of Carnival. Not that he was a humbug about it, but that, living a couple of blocks from the parade route’s end, during these his street became a parking lot and revelers thought nothing of heaping trash into his yard at all hours, plus public safety issues that arose. In fact, his last printed piece ever covered that very subject. So, at least there’s that.

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