SHREVEPORT, LA - James Creswell Gardner, who would become Shreveport’s youngest Mayor (1954-1958), a state legislator, a proponent of the present form of city government and Chairman of its first City Council in 1978-1982, died on Friday, August 27, 2010, at Willis-Knighton Pierremont. The cause of death was cancer.
A memorial service will be held at 1:00 p.m. Monday, August 30, 2010 Broadmoor United Methodist Church, conducted by Reverend Conrad Edwards of Broadmoor United Methodist Church. Visitation will be held from 2:00 until 4:00 p.m. on Sunday, August 29, 2010 at Rose-Neath Marshall Street Funeral Home.
Jim was born in Shreveport on June 17, 1924 to Marie Creswell and Arville (“Jack”) Gardner, who operated the Gardner Hotel in the 400 block of Milam Street in downtown Shreveport. As a result, Jim lived in the hotel as a young boy, and his early years in downtown had a profound influence on his personality and future interests.
Jim’s heritage had deep roots in American and Caddo Parish history. He was descended from Pierce M. Butler, a former governor of South Carolina who was killed in the Mexican War in 1845, and from Judge David Creswell, an early Caddo Parish District Judge for whom Creswell Street and Creswell School in Shreveport was named.
He attended Alexander School and C.E. Byrd High School and entered Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge in the fall of 1940. His early career at LSU included enrolling in ROTC and trying out for the boxing team, then a varsity sport. His first match convinced Jim that his future laid elsewhere, and he left the boxing ring to become the team manager. Because of World War II, he did not receive the traditional LSU “L”, which was finally awarded to him years later by the LSU Athletic Department. He graduated from LSU with a major in history, which became a life-long interest.
In April of 1943 Jim’s ROTC unit was sent from Fort Beauregard, Louisiana to Fort Benning, Georgia, and after receiving a commission as a Second Lieutenant of the Infantry, he was assigned to European duty. He landed at Cherbourg, France and then was assigned to Nuremberg, Germany, where he became a keen observer of the Nazi war crime trials. In June of 1946 he was discharged at Camp Shelby, Mississippi and returned to Shreveport, which would be his home for the remainder of his life.
In his mid-30’s he began the study of law at the Centenary College of Louisiana night school in Shreveport and was admitted to the Louisiana State Bar in 1963.
Jim loved local and state politics. He served as a State Representative from 1952 to 1954. He was elected Mayor of Shreveport in 1954 at the age of 30, the youngest mayor in Shreveport’s history, and served through 1958. His term in office was marked by the largest public improvement program and annexation effort in the history of Shreveport up to that time. His efforts in housing improvements received national recognition.
In 1958, following his defeat in his bid for a second term as Mayor of Shreveport, the Shreveport Times wrote:
“He is clearly Shreveport’s ‘first citizen.’ That truth does not, nor should not diminish any other person, for there are truly others in this community whose contributions have been grand. But Jim Gardner has been a giant in our midst. He was the rare combination of theoretician and practitioner. His keen mind developed the ideals to fullness on the frontlines of politics as a legislator, mayor and city councilman.”
“He is a historian, writer, and scholar. He is a devoted husband and father.”
“But most of all he has been two things: a thinker and a city’s conscience.”
As flattering as these accolades are, they yield to the rare mutual love and affection, which Jim had for his children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren and for their special relationships.
Jim was employed by Southwestern Electric Power Company, now AEP-SWEPCO, from 1959 until his retirement in 1987, having served as Louisiana Division Manager and Vice President and Director.
The news media referred to him as the “Architect” of the form of government contained in the 1978 Shreveport City Charter. He was elected to the City Council in 1978 and served as the first Chairman of the City Council under the new charter.
Jim served on many major State boards and commissions under appointment by four Governors of Louisiana. His record of civic and community service to Shreveport has few, if any, peers. He served as chairman or president of the Shreveport Chamber of Commerce, the Rotary Club of Shreveport, the YMCA, Community Foundation of Shreveport-Bossier, LSU-S Citizens Advisory Committee, Committee of 100, and Shreveport Junior Chamber of Commerce. Additionally, he served as a director of numerous other civic organizations.
His civic awards include Young Man of the Year (1954), Mr. Shreveport (Optimist Club, 1979), Shreveport Bar Association Liberty Bell Award, Shreveport Chamber of Commerce Business Leader of the Year, Community Council Paul M. Brown Humanitarian Award, and National Conference of Christians and Jews Brotherhood and Humanitarian Award.
Jim was an active Methodist layman and taught Sunday School for 35 years. He was chairman of the administrative board of First United Methodist Church from 1961 to 1962. At the time of his death he was a member of Broadmoor United Methodist Church.
After his retirement from Southwestern Electric Power Company he continued to serve as a member of numerous boards and civic committees to write occasional articles for publication. In his 80’s he wrote and had published a two-volume autobiography, Jim Gardner and Shreveport.
In October 1944 Jim married Mary Ella Buchanan, his high school sweetheart. It was a happy marriage that produced two children, Ellen Buchanan Gardner Caverlee and James C. (“Cres”) Gardner, Jr. Mary Ella died in 1976. In 1978 he married Mary Ann Welsh Gardner, who survives him. It was this later marriage that brought him much joy and growth.
In addition to his wife, Jim is survived by his children, Ellen Gardner Caverlee and husband Samuel of Shreveport; James Creswell Gardner, Jr. and wife Sharon of Shreveport; and by Mary Ann’s daughters, Martha Elizabeth Hannigan and husband Michael Edward of Shreveport; Margaret Welsh Clausen and husband Steven O’Neal of Medford, Oregon; and Amye Wren Wilson and husband Stephen Michael of Prosper, Texas.
Survivors also include grandchildren John Gardner Caverlee and wife Amy of Dallas; Dr. James Buchanan Caverlee and wife Sherry of College Station, Texas; James Creswell Gardner, III and wife Marcie of New Orleans; Dr. Megan Elizabeth Gardner of Shreveport; Michael Wait Gardner and fiancee’ Maura Dees of Shreveport; Ryan Hannigan of Dallas; Austin Hannigan of Shreveport; Gretchen Wren King of Atlanta; Craig Clausen of Frisco, Texas; and Olivia Ann Wilson of Prosper, Texas.
He is also survived by great-grandchildren William Brooks Caverlee, Thomas Gardner Caverlee, Luke William Caverlee, Eva Marin Caverlee, Zoe Kelley Caverlee, Eleanor Margaret Gardner, Mary Ruth Gardner, Kelly Ann King, and Kamryn Rayne Hannigan.
Honoring their grandfather as pallbearers will be John Gardner Caverlee, Dr. James Buchanan Caverlee, James Creswell Gardner, III, Dr. Megan Elizabeth Gardner; Michael Wait Gardner; Ryan Hannigan, Austin Hannigan, and Craig Clausen.
Serving as honorary pallbearers will John D. Caruthers, Arthur R. Carmody, Jr., Dr. Milton Chapman, Alvin Childs, Jr., Jackson B. Davis, Charles A. Grubb, John H. Guth, John B. Hussey, Horace R. Ladymon, Mandel C. Selber, Jr., Clarence Wells and Dr. Donald Webb.
The family suggests memorials may be made to the Feist-Weiller Cancer Center, 1501 Kings Hwy., Shreveport, LA 71103, Providence House, 815 Cotton Street, Shreveport, LA, 71101, Broadmoor United Methodist Church, 3715 Youree Drive, Shreveport, LA 71105, or to the charity of one’s choice.
The family wishes to extend special thanks to Dr. Seborn Woods, Dr. Sanders Hearne, and Dr. David Green at Willis-Knighton Pierremont; Dr. Lane Rosen and Dr. Chip McDonald at Willis-Knighton Cancer Center; and the medical staff of Willis-Knighton for their care and kindness to Jim throughout his illness.
Published in Shreveport Times on Aug. 30, 2010.