William Putnam Sevier, Jr., Mayor of Tallulah, Madison Parish, Louisiana

 

Submitted by Richard P. Sevier

 

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William Putnam Sevier, Jr., Madison Parish, Louisiana

 

Born October 13, 1899 on Araby Plantation in southern Madison Parish, Louisiana, William Putnam Sevier, Jr. was the eldest child of William Putnam Sevier, Sr. and Ada Shadbourne Graves Sevier. He was the grandson of Henry Clay Sevier and Nancy Adeline Ophelia Nash Sevier who lived on the Natchez Trace in Leake County, Mississippi. His great grandfather was George Washington Sevier of Overton County, Tennessee, and his great great grandfather was General John Sevier, hero of the Battle of King's Mountain during the Revolutionary War and first Governor of the State of Tennessee. His maternal grandparents were John Francis Graves and Louise Watson Maher Graves, daughter of Philip Maher and Caroline Ewing Lowry Maher, owners of Oakley Plantation and among the largest land and slave owners in Madison Parish before the Civil War.

 

Although his given name was William, he early on became known as "Buck" Sevier when, as a small boy, someone gave him a toy Doctor's kit, and he, for reasons unknown, renamed himself "Dr. Buck". Buck Sevier was a lifelong resident of Madison Parish. After graduating from Tallulah High School as Salutatorian in 1916, he attended Louisiana State University with hopes of getting a Law Degree. At LSU he became a member of the Sigma Nu fraternity. Unfortunately, World War I interrupted his studies. He went back to LSU after the war, but, because of lack of family resources, was forced to return home in 1922 where he began work with the U. S. Government's boll weevil experiment station. Later in 1922, J. T. McClellan, then President of Tallulah State Bank, saw the makings of a banker, and offered Mr. Sevier a job. At that time Tallulah State Bank was only 20 years old. Mr. Sevier rose through the ranks to Cashier, then President, and finally Chairman of the Board. He retired at the age of 80 in 1980 with the title of Chairman Emeritus after 58 years with the bank.

 

During his tenure at the bank he served as President of the Louisiana Banker's Association in 1961-62 and vice president of the American Bankers Association in 1963-64. He was also served as Director of the Standard Life Insurance Company of Jackson, Mississippi.

 

On August 3, 1927 Buck Sevier married Martha Fontaine Boney, daughter of Richard Kinsey Boney and Rena Cox Boney of Duckport Plantation in Madison Parish. Martha was the granddaughter of Owen B. Cox of Hinds County, Mississippi - a business partner of Jefferson Davis and keeper of the Davis papers during the Civil War until they were burned or stolen by the yankees. From this marriage a son - Richard Putnam Sevier and twin daughters – Dorothy Hamilton Sevier & Nancy Sherrill Sevier resulted.

 

In an early 1970's interview with the editor of The Louisiana Banker the following was reported:

 

"Looking back over the years, Mr. Sevier enjoys recalling his early days with the bank. When he joined the bank there were only five employees; today there are 21 full-time employees at Tallulah State Bank. Instead of the computerized processing of today, in 1922, the bank posted all its accounts by hand. Also, Mr. Sevier recalls that electricity was not used in the bank until after 5 p.m. in the evening. He was with the bank during the 1929 stock market crash and the Great Depression. "I'm proud to say," said Mr. Sevier, "that Tallulah State Bank never closed its doors."

 

In addition to his banking career Mr. Sevier was very active in Tallulah politics. Starting in 1933 he served three terms as Alderman and became Mayor in 1946 - a position he held until he "retired" in 1974. His 41 years as an elected official is a Louisiana record as is his 28 years as a Louisiana Mayor.

 

Buck Sevier died October 3, 1985 and is buried in Silver Cross Cemetery in Tallulah. He was survived by his son Richard P. Sevier; his daughter-in-law Barbara Pollard Sevier; his grandson William Richard Sevier - all of Midland, Texas; his daughter Dorothy Elliott; his son-in-law Dr. Wayne Gordon Elliott; his granddaughters Sarah Sevier Elliott, Caroline Elliott and Nancy Hamilton Elliott - all of El Dorado, Arkansas; and his daughter Sherrill Pirone; his son-in-law Dr. Thomas Pascal Pirone; his grandson John Sevier Pirone and his

granddaughter Catherine Sherrill Pirone - all of Lexington, Kentucky.

 

After his death the following appeared in "Baghdad on the Bayou", a column in the Madison Journal, written by its editor Carroll Regan:

“In February 1974, I wrote the following in this space: "Election fever has hit Tallulah again, and it hardly seems that four years have passed since the last battle for municipal offices. ‘At least two familiar circumstances are present again for this election: One, there will be some new faces sitting on Tallulah's Town Council and two, it's essentially black versus white again, as the two races have polarized as usual at election time.

 

‘Perhaps, though, the most unusual aspect of this race is that it'll be the first time in over 40 years that Mayor W. P. (Buck) Sevier hasn't offered himself for election. It would probably be hard for him to admit so soon, but we bet he'll miss the job before long. Tallulah and her people have always been first, last and always with him--a more loyal citizen she has never had. When elected mayor in 1946, he had already served as alderman for three terms. Well known in banking as well as political circles, he has made Tallulah a fine ambassador wherever he has traveled. His leadership will be missed, but his good citizenship, we are sure, will be with us always.’
           

Notice I referred to him as "Buck" Sevier--I called him "Mr. Buck" or "Mayor"-- as did most of the people who knew him. Frequently, he and Mr. E. C. (Blue) Woodyear would appear in print in the Journal, either in banking or business articles. He once stopped me on the street, and said, "Ho-o-o-o there, Mr. Editor, how 'bout doin' me a favor? Sure, I said, what is it? "How about not referring to me and Blue in your paper as "Buck" and "Blue"--it makes us sound like a couple of old bird dogs. So from that day forward, we quit using their nicknames in the Journal. And I want you to know, Mr. Buck, we didn't even use it in your obituary in this issue. (I know you'll forgive me for using it here, because it's what everybody knew you as, and still does).

 

"Character" is really not an apt description of Buck Sevier. "Legend" is more fitting. So great was the admiration for him that I don't think he ever had opposition for mayor, except maybe once in his early career. This carried over even when blacks started seeking public office. They didn't run against him either. No wonder. He was respected because he was fair to blacks as well as whites, both as a mayor and as a banker.

 

Back when he used to hold Mayor's Court for the city's various misdemeanors, we published the City Court Docket in the Journal each week. Occasionally--quite often, really--someone found guilty in his court would come see me to ask that we leave their name off the docket. And rather than simply refusing, and giving all the reasons why, such as fairness to the others whose names would be there, I would always tell them that if Mayor Sevier approved, we would take their name out. It was a devilish thing to do, because I knew what was going to happen. I could almost hear the mayor's answer through the brick walls separating the Journal and Tallulah State Bank: "No sir, my friend! I got caught killing a turkey out of season one time, and they put my name in every newspaper from the Wall Street Journal to the Times-Picayune! I don't take anybody's name out of the paper!" And he never did. He loved to tell that turkey-hunting story on himself, along with a few other stories of a more spicy variety, one of which involved his old friend, Mertie Bloom, which I can't print in a family newspaper.

 

It was sad to see Mr. Buck's health failing him the last couple of years, because he had always been such an active and vivacious man, his back as straight as an oak board, his step high and lively. Almost to the end, though, his mind was sharp and he never lost that great sense of humor. Many of his friends--and his family--believe that he never got over the loss of his beloved Martha two years ago. He would sit for hours looking at old picture albums and talking, when someone was visiting, about the many years they had together. And many they were; they had celebrated their golden wedding anniversary several years before her death.

 

He was an avid hunter until late in life, and spent many hours at his camp on the Tensas River. But perhaps his most enjoyable pastime was the horse races. His friends took him to the racetrack regularly up until only a month or two before his death. He saw the great thoroughbred, Secretariat, win the Kentucky Derby, and a big, framed picture of the horse occupied a special place in his house. One of his sons-in-law, Dr. Tom Pirone, who lives in Lexington, Ky., brought the Racing Form from that Derby to Tallulah for the funeral. We buried Mr. Buck last Friday with that Racing Form tucked in his coat pocket."

 

Sources: The Louisiana Banker; the Madison Journal; Business Professional Directory 1952 and Personal Knowledge

 

MADISON COORDINATOR'S NOTE: Both William P. Sevier and his wife Martha are buried in Silver Cross Cemetery at Tallulah.