A Reminiscence Of Russ Bordelon
By Brad Goins
For more than 30 years, Russ Bordelon was the voice of Pierre — the Cajun everyman who was the narrator of Russ’ Lagniappe magazine column titled “Pierre Sez.”
Although hundreds — maybe thousands — of locals must have known that Pierre was Russ Bordelon, he always insisted on anonymity. It was important to Russ that he be able to walk into any Lake Area eatery or gathering place without people recognizing him as Pierre and feeling they had to censor their comments.
When readers called to complain and said they wanted to talk to Pierre, I told them I didn’t know who he was. They could write a letter to the editor if they wanted to, but they couldn’t talk to Pierre.
Many of the local restaurants Russ frequented to learn the opinions of the everyday Joe closed down as the years went by. In recent columns, he’d referred mainly to KD’s as the place where he and “the old men” gathered “to solve the problems of the world.”
A native of Bordelonville in Avoyelles Parish, Russ, who could never pass up a joke about Louisiana politics, liked to point out that he came from Edwin Edwards’ home parish — “the only place where a sheriff was re-elected while serving time in his own jail.”
Russ got his bachelor’s and MBA at the University of Southwestern Louisiana (now known as UL-Lafayette). In 1976, he came to Lake Charles, where he established himself as an account executive at KPLC-TV — a post he held until he retired in 2008.
Russ was geared toward presentation, performance, entertainment. He thrived as an emcee, at one point manning the mic at 40 conventions in one year.
His ability to speak French fluently was a crowd-pleaser in Southwest Louisiana. So too was his ability to adopt a light-hearted comic persona.
In a 1987 interview with Lagniappe, he said, “I was the class clown. I’ve told jokes in talent shows. I’ve been telling some of the same jokes for 15 years.” He asserted that if you want people to remember a point, you’d do well to illustrate it with a funny story.
For years, Russ was one of the recurring figures in the Lake Charles’ Ad and Press Club’s annual satirical show called Gridiron. That group gave him its Silver Award in 1997.
Russ also made his mark as a local actor, starring as the protagonist in the Lake Charles production of the one-man play about Huey Long titled The Kingfish.
Russ was an individual who liked to be out and about. It’s hardly surprising that he held membership or office in a great many local groups. He was at one time or another president of the Sulphur Rotary Club, the Lake Charles Advertising Federation, Big Brothers/Big Sisters and the Calcasieu Women’s Shelter. He was a Diamond Life member of the National Wild Turkey Federation.
Two reasons Russ liked to be out and about were that he was a good talker and enjoyed talking. He was flamboyant and a true character, and gave off a sense of absolute self-confidence (regardless of how confident he really felt at the time).
I remember Russ as a commanding presence who frequently strode in through the front door of our office — always dressed in a dark sports jacket and giving off the powerful aroma of Cuban cigars.
He greeted the staff with nicknames he’d made up. Publisher Bob Hartnett was “Big Bad Bob.” After President Obama started appointing “czars,” Russ christened me “The Czar.”
He usually began his office visits with a Boudreaux and Thibodeaux joke. In his conversations, he demonstrated that his knowledge of recent local history and Louisiana politics was exhaustive. He regaled me with tales of the secret lives of New Orleans gangsters he’d known. I didn’t know whether these stories were 100 percent true, but they sure were interesting.
The last time I had a long conversation with Russ was on the evening of our last Lagniappe Top 50 Locally Owned Businesses banquet in 2016. This conversation made a strong impact on me, because it was the first (and as it turned, out, only) time Russ talked to me about personal matters. I could tell he was concerned about his health — concerned enough that he felt he could no longer drive. I’d always liked Russ and his larger-than-life persona. But after this conversation, I valued and respected him. I’d seen there was a vulnerable person with real feelings who lived inside the character with its booming voice and bluster.
In all the years I’ve worked at Lagniappe, Pierre Sez has been the magazine’s most popular column. Many people I’ve only met once have told me Pierre Sez was “the one I like the most.” A few prefaced the statement with the words, “Of course.”
Some were no doubt intrigued by Russ’ use of Cajun dialect in the column. But equally important, I think, was that Russ employed a simple and straightforward brand of humor that many locals felt comfortable with. His impassioned expression of his strongly held opinions resonated in a place where people like to feel that they’re free to say what they think in a direct manner to just about anybody.
I don’t think it mattered so much to readers what opinions Russ held; I think what they liked was that he expressed them vigorously, colorfully and without apology.
I hope Russ knew his column was the most popular. I think he probably did.
Russ Bordelon died on May 31. He was 67 years old.
Russ Bordelon’s usual loud, happy salutation to the nearest person to the door as he entered our office (often accompanied by the lingering aroma of a recent cigar session) will always be fondly remembered … as will his unique sense of humor, quick wit and deliverance of a joke, a hot scoop or some inside info with a twinkle in his eyes.
For more than 30 years, Russ closed nearly 800 classic Pierre Sez columns in Lagniappe with this simple, wise advice:
‘”’Til next time, lache pas la patate.”
Our great friend Russ Bordelon never “dropped the potato.”
His one-of-a-kind presence will be sorely missed by everyone at Lagniappe and by many in our community, and rightfully so.
And like many, we are incredibly sorry to see him go.
So Godspeed, kind sir — we promise to do our best to keep your friend Lefty in line.
‘Til next time, Russ.
— Greg Pavlovich
Facebook Friends Describe Russ Bordelon
Friends, former co-workers and fellow civic organization members took to Facebook to express their sadness at the recent passing of Russ Bordelon, and to relay their favorite memories of him. To say Russ was well regarded in the community would be an understatement, and the comments on Facebook showed it. Here are the top 10 descriptions of Russ posted on Facebook.
10. Extremely talented
8. Ole Buddy
7. A Special Man
6. A Southern Gentleman
5. A Sweet Teddy Bear
4. A Hell Of A Good Cook
3. Cajun Humorist
2. Uncle Russ
1. My Friend
Deep Taughts While Waitin At De Pearly Gates
10. Do day have crawfish in heaven?
9. Who do I ask for a ceegar?
8. Do day have a piccolo player here?
7. How do de saints feel about de Saints?
6. Will Sid Guidroz show me around?
5. Iz dar a Black Angus or KD’s here?
4. Iz dar a place up here where I can tell my coonass jokes?
3. Can I even say “coonass” here?
2. Do I have to subscribe to cable here to see de Astros?
1. Would it be helpful for me to put in a good word for Lefty?
Who could have known it would become the most popular column in Lagniappe’s 34-year history?
Russ introduced us to quite a cast of characters in his column — Sedonia, T-Claude, Lefty, Max and even a dog named Boudin. I saw many of these characters at Russ’ memorial service; you know who you are.
Russ didn’t want a funeral; he wanted his memorial service to be a celebration of his life. He would not have been disappointed.
‘Til we meet again, lache pas la patate, my friend.
— Bob Hartnett
P.S. The shortest joke Russ ever told me: Two Cajuns leave a bar.