This week marks the birthday of former Louisiana U.S. Senator Allen J. Ellender. He was born in 1890, and in his heyday, Ellender was the most prominent Senator in Washington and a powerful voice for the Bayou State.

Jim Brown (2022)

Jim Brown’s syndicated column appears each week in numerous newspapers throughout the nation and on websites worldwide. You can read all his past columns and see continuing updates at You can also look over a list of books he has published at

I first met Ellender in 1972 shortly after I was elected to the Louisiana state senate. I had given an evening speech up in Caldwell Parish and began the drive home to Ferriday as the sun was setting. The two-hour drive took me across the duty ferry and back through Harrisonburg, the parish seat in Catahoula Parish.

Harrisonburg is not all that lively during the day. At nine o'clock in the evening, there was virtually no sign of life. I decided to stop off at the sheriff's office in the courthouse and use the phone to let my wife know that I was on my way home. Generally, there is no one in the courthouse that late at night except the dispatcher in the sheriff's office. Since not much happened in Catahoula Parish, Sheriff J. Y. McGuffee saw fit to hire for the night job a decent but mildly mentally handicapped fellow who was competent enough to handle the sheriff's radio and willing to sit there all night long.

I told him I was going into the back room to use the phone, and I shut the door to check in at home. When I finished my call and headed back into the outer office, I could hear a loud voice carrying on in some detail about world affairs. Phrases like "too much foreign aid," "not enough for national defense," and "support payments for our rice crop" were part of the conversation. A short, elderly gentleman was doing the talking. He had on glasses and was even reading from notes.

So here was this older fellow who was unknown to me at the time, giving a lecture on international issues to the mentally handicapped dispatcher at the sheriff's office. I introduced myself. "Glad to meet you, son," he said. ''I'm Senator Allan Ellender." The Senator went on to explain that he made an annual tour every year and stopped at each parish in the state. He ended up at the Catahoula Parish Courthouse for his last stop of the day. The Senator was going to be good to his word, but the only person available to talk to was the dispatcher. Now he had me.

Now as I said, Ellender was not just an ordinary U.S. Senator. He was chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, and was president pro tempore of the Senate, which made him third in line to being president. No senator in the nation had more power. And here he was, with a captive audience of two, late at night in a deserted community telling us about the woes of the nation. Many a politician and lobbyist would have given quite a price to have been in that empty courthouse with us.

Ellender talked for about an hour, and I fixed a fresh pot of coffee. After quite an earful on national and international affairs, I led the Senator down the road to Jonesville for the night. Billy Edwards was the town mayor, and also owned the local motel. He gladly comped a room for the Senator as I left them and headed home to Ferriday.

I never laid eyes on Senator Ellender again until I attended his funeral five years later. It certainly was not as quiet as our first meeting. An hour before the funeral, over a thousand people were packed into the street in front of the entrance of St. Francis de Sales Catholic Church in the south Louisiana town of Houma. Metal barriers had been set up to keep the crowd at bay, and the church was surrounded by state troopers, local police officers, and numerous Secret Service agents.

It became obvious why there was so much security. The President and Mrs. Nixon were to join a long list of dignitaries to remember the Senator. When the President entered, he was led by the Secret Service to a seat directly in front of me. It was a real celebratory ending for Senator Ellender. And quite an experience for me, a young, wet behind the ears, new state senator from rural north Louisiana.

Peace and Justice

Jim Brown

Recommended for you