Bon soir Jules d’Hemecourt’s lasting legacy

Editor’s Note: Gautreau, a writer with Zehnder Communications, worked in radio with Jules d’Hemecourt for several years.

Even if you never heard of Jules d’Hemecourt, you probably heard him. Many local journalists who have reported your news certainly did.

Jules was gifted with a golden, whiskey-deepened baritone that resonated in countless radio and TV ads. As “Tee Jules,” he guided a generation of South Louisiana children through “The Cajun 12 Days of Christmas,” a holiday radio staple.

Jules (his last name is pronounced “DEM-a-court”) was much more than a voice, though. He was a decorated journalist, a veteran writer, a radio announcer and a TV man who possessed an enormous intellect. He held a law degree, spoke several languages and in his later years established himself as a nationally recognized expert on Confederate paper money, to name a just a few of his interests.

His most lasting mark, though, is sure to be the lives he touched during 30 years as an LSU journalism professor and faculty adviser to its student media. Charismatic and endearing, “Dr. D.” was one of the Manship School’s most popular faculty, and his courses on radio and television production were rites of passage for countless aspiring journalists.

The first time he spoke to me personally, I was fumbling my way through an assignment in the LSU radio lab bunkered in the basement of Hodges Hall. Dr. D. strolled in as I played a classical music record I’d randomly chosen. “Mmm … Adagio for Strings,” he muttered.

A few years after graduating, I was lucky enough to cross paths professionally with Jules in the early 1990s at Louisiana Network, where we both worked as radio news anchors. His gift for composing news scripts was unparalleled. Listeners of our many rural affiliates regarded Ross Adams—his on-air name—as their own Charles Osgood. I absorbed every morsel I could from the most talented writer I’ll ever work with.

Though we weren’t confidants, I could call Jules my friend. Away from campus, I came to know him as humorously eccentric and somewhat egotistical. I picked him up one Sunday for lunch, walking into a rather unkempt LSU Avenue cottage, and was startled by a large oil portrait of him seated behind a TV anchor desk—a smirking sentry gazing down from the mantel.

Most of it was puffery, and his sweetness always won over. Perhaps my fondest memory of Jules is an afternoon we spent at Mike Anderson’s, slurping down fresh oysters and Bloody Marys. He had me in hysterics, regaling me with stories of growing up in New Orleans in the early ’60s as a beret-wearing, bongo-slapping beatnik reciting poetry in French Quarter bars. When the check came, he wouldn’t even let me see it.

In the classroom, Dr. D. had refined a persona that left no doubt who was in command, despite—and perhaps because of—his gregariousness. But on the job he was more vulnerable. When his aura of sophistication occasionally cracked, he became a font of humor, even if it was at his own expense.

One morning, for example, a distinctly foul odor followed him as he strolled into the Louisiana Network offices. Barely a half hour into his shift, the newsroom was fetid. Jules had stepped in cat droppings at home and failed to scrape it all off his shoe. Messy footprints dotted our end of the carpeted office, his trails leading from the elevator around the newsroom to the kitchen and finally to the bathroom.

It wasn’t the first time Jules’ office behavior set his news director spinning into fits of frustration, and the usually calm Jim Engster erupted, chewing out Jules for his inconsiderate behavior.

Jules accepted his scolding in utter silence. Several minutes after Engster had left the room, Jules glanced over at me and asked blankly, “Was that a big deal?”

One morning a company executive bounded into the newsroom and ebulliently blurted out, “Hey, what do you do with an elephant with three balls? You walk him!” While the rest of us guffawed, Jules sighed in overt annoyance. Thus snubbed, the executive pouted back to his office. Again, Jules just sat silently while the news director delivered a fiery sermon to the entire staff about respecting the chain of command.

“I don’t watch sports,” Jules said with perfect elocution. “I don’t get sports jokes.”

Despite our teasing, Jules was usually a good sport. There was, however, a sullenness about him. It didn’t define him, and you had to be around him long enough to see it, but it was there. An only child with few close relatives, he rarely mentioned anything of substance about his personal life. The few times I probed in casual conversation, he resisted, and I never pressed.

After he retired from LSU in 2005, we drifted apart as the demands of my family took precedence. The few times I saw him in his last years, his fatigue and graying complexion were subtle but unmistakable. I knew his health was failing.

One day in February 2008, his housekeeper arrived to find Jules collapsed on the kitchen floor. He was rushed to the hospital but didn’t survive the night, fading too quickly even for anyone to bid him goodbye.

He spent three decades educating and inspiring young minds, yet Jules d’Hemecourt IV died alone in a hospital room at the age of 64. One of my most sobering tasks as a reporter was filing his obituary for The Advocate.

In a final, magnanimous gesture, Jules left his entire estate, which was not insignificant, to Campus Crusade for Christ. More importantly, he left a legacy to LSU and the profession he served so loyally. His students still serve some of journalism’s most hallowed halls.

Thanks to the diligence of two of Jules’ friends—Jim Engster and Lillie Petit Gallagher—the city will honor Dr. D. by planting a memorial live oak in his honor at City Park Golf Course. Friends are invited to gather at the clubhouse at 1 p.m. on Dec. 20 (his birthday) to honor him.

It’s a fitting tribute for Jules’ role in helping Gallagher, a Foundation for Historical Louisiana board member well known for her unwavering advocacy to preserve the character of the golf course, which was built in the 1920s.

And it’s a tall order for a city that reveres the mighty oak—in this case, replacing one felled by Hurricane Gustav. But I have no doubt Jules is up for the task. For as long as Mother Nature will permit, he will remain a sentry—and smirking no doubt—gazing down the third fairway.