The best politician I ever knew never ran for office. He never held a fundraiser or asked anyone for votes. Never even put up a lawn sign. But he knew better than most what makes people tick because he understood human nature. He knew how to talk to people on their level, and people liked him immensely because he always made them feel comfortable, valued and respected. There was nothing phony about him.
He was my dad, Clarence James DuBos Jr., and he died Nov. 5 at the age of 95.
If I have understood anything about politics, it's because of the things Clarence taught me about people. A salesman at heart, he had a ready smile, a genuine warmth and a dry yet playful sense of humor.
A member of what Tom Brokaw and Stephen Ambrose called "the greatest generation" of Americans, Clarence lived by a few simple rules: work hard, treat people right, be a loyal friend, trust in God, provide for your family, help those in need.
He attended college for barely a semester, but he was a voracious reader — from the classics to Zane Grey, from the daily newspaper to John le Carre. Depending on the circumstances, he might quote Shakespeare or W.C. Fields. He distilled his wisdom to a few memorable quotes, which I heard many times as a boy:
• "Anything worth doing is worth doing well."
• "I trust everyone — until they give me a reason not to."
• "It costs you nothing to give someone a compliment, but it may be worth the whole world to them."
And my favorite, which he would utter (with a wry grin) on those rare occasions when I did something well: "Even a blind hog finds an acorn once in a while."
I never heard him call another man a bad name, but if he thought someone was dishonest, he might say, "That fellow could hide behind a corkscrew," or "When he dies, they won't have to dig him a grave — they'll just screw him into the ground."
I don't know how he did it, but Clarence worked at least 10 hours a day, sometimes 12 hours, yet he always found time to be with each of his children and grandchildren. He attended every one of my little league football and baseball games, my six sisters' Girl Scout or school functions, my brother Roy's band recitals, my brother David's films, and he and my mom never missed a parent-teacher conference. When my niece Natalie asked him to take her to her high school's father-daughter dance because her dad had to work, Clarence happily obliged — and they won the jitterbug contest.
He was a creature of habit in a reassuring way. The first thing he did when he returned home every night was kiss my mom and all my sisters — and ask my brothers and me if we had finished our homework. We said grace before meals, even in restaurants, and some nights at the dinner table he'd tune a radio to live broadcasts of the rosary. Every day during Lent, we all went to 5 p.m. Mass, and my eight siblings and I filled an entire pew every Sunday morning. He made annual retreats at Manresa, and he stayed up late every night to read and say his prayers.
As if he weren't busy enough, Clarence also embraced civic and charitable causes. He chaired the local board of what became The Arc of Greater New Orleans, and he made a point of hiring the developmentally disabled, Vietnam veterans, and newly arrived Vietnamese craftsmen in the 1970s. A child of the Great Depression, he understood the importance of work; he gave a summer job to every teenage kid in our neighborhood who asked for one.
When I was a young reporter, I met an old New Orleans politician named Milton "Snake" Stire, who served as New Orleans' Civil Sheriff for many years. When Stire learned that Clarence was my dad, he pulled me close and said, "I've known your father for many years. Let me tell you something: He would have made one helluva politician." Then he leaned closer for emphasis: "One helluva politician."
Stire was right. Clarence could walk into a roomful of strangers and within 15 minutes there would be a semicircle of people standing around him, listening to him tell stories or jokes. I saw him do this more than once.
Yes, Clarence would have made a great politician in the traditional sense, had he chosen that path. But as much as he loved politics and people, his ambition was simpler, maybe even nobler: He just wanted to be a good dad. At that, he succeeded beyond measure.