In 1956, after John F. Kennedy fell short in his bid to secure the Democratic Party’s nomination for vice president, he left the Democratic National Convention in Chicago with Edmund M. Reggie, a Louisiana judge who had helped sway his state’s delegates to back Kennedy, shortly after he met the Massachusetts senator.
“I remember walking out of the hall with him at the end, and I remember this very, very vividly, my wife and Senator Kennedy and myself,” Mr. Reggie said in an oral history interview that is archived at the John F. Kennedy Library.
“Now this is a man that four days before, we didn’t know, but I just felt something, I can’t express it,” Mr. Reggie said in Crowley, La., during that May 1967 interview, adding: “I was really taken with him, completely.”
The feeling was mutual, and Mr. Reggie quickly became one of the Deep South’s early, ardent supporters of the Kennedys and a family confidant. A stalwart of Louisiana politics, he headed up campaigning in his state for the presidential bids of John F. Kennedy in 1960, Robert F. Kennedy in 1968, and Edward M. Kennedy in 1980.
Mr. Reggie, who became part of the extended Kennedy clan in 1992 when his daughter Victoria married Senator Edward Kennedy, died Tuesday in his Lafayette, La., home. He was 87, and his health had been failing because of a variety of illnesses.
“Since the mid-’50s, starting with Jack, Judge Reggie became one of my family’s closest friends and trusted advisers,” said Edward M. Kennedy Jr.
“For my dad, having Edmund as a father-in-law was a dream come true, quite honestly, because they could spend all their family vacations talking politics,” he added. “They really loved each other. They could talk for hours. My father looked forward to his trips to Louisiana as a time when he could sit back and reminisce.”
Although he was a longtime summer resident of Nantucket, Mr. Reggie was not merely a vacationer in Massachusetts. In 2004, he helped broker a deal to establish an independent, nonprofit organization to run the Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway, when the players in negotiations included the City of Boston, the Romney administration, and the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority.
At the time, Senator Edward Kennedy noted that his brother John had once named Mr. Reggie a representative to the Middle East. Mitt Romney, then the governor, said that compared with the challenges of Massachusetts political negotiations, the Middle East was “just child’s play.”
When Mr. Reggie met John Kennedy in 1956, Mr. Reggie was already well on his way to accumulating political clout in Louisiana.
“He was there at the very beginning,” Secretary of State John F. Kerry said. “He was one of the most loyal, unbelievably good friends, not just to President Kennedy, but also to Teddy through the years, and a great friend of mine. He was a bigger-than-life character with enormous generosity. He loved the whole panorama of American politics and was always calling and texting advice. I used to get my e-mails, and he’d give me good encouragement along the road.”
A son of Lebanese immigrants, Mr. Reggie was 24 when he was appointed city judge in Crowley, La., after his predecessor died, according to a biographical website set up by his family. For a quarter century, he ran successfully to keep the judgeship until retiring from the bench in 1976.
Over the decades, Mr. Reggie was appointed to Louisiana state government posts, including commissioner of public welfare and chairman of the state’s Mineral Board. He chaired the Louisiana Committee on Reorganization of the Executive Branch of State Government, which consolidated 356 state agencies into 19, and headed a transition team for Governor Edwin Edwards, whom Mr. Reggie served as executive counsel. Mr. Reggie was inducted into the state’s Political Hall of Fame in 2004.
Although Mr. Reggie did not seek elective office higher than city judge, “he was one of the most knowledgeable of political minds in my lifetime,” Edwards told The Times-Picayune of New Orleans. “He was very dedicated and loyal to his friends and could not have been a better friend.”
Mr. Reggie also was long active in financial institutions, including Acadia Savings and Loan Association in Crowley. When Acadia collapsed in the 1980s, he was among the S&L’s officers charged with misapplication of funds. Mr. Reggie was convicted in 1992 of two counts of fraud, sentenced to 120 days of home detention, and fined $30,000.
Three years after meeting John Kennedy at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago, Mr. Reggie sent a four-page letter to John Kennedy’s aide Theodore C. Sorensen detailing plans for Kennedy’s presidential campaign visit to Louisiana. “Everything is in readiness” for the two-day visit, wrote Mr. Reggie, who listed moment by moment activities and suggestions, ranging from a luncheon with business leaders to crowning the queen of the International Rice Festival in Crowley. “Every one here is moved to the point of excitement just anticipating ‘Jack Kennedy’s visit,’ ” Mr. Reggie wrote.
In the years following the assassinations of John and Robert Kennedy, Mr. Reggie grew closer to Edward Kennedy. “I considered Ted my best friend,” Mr. Reggie told the Globe for the book “Last Lion.”
Mr. Reggie dated the romance between his daughter and the senator to a 40th anniversary dinner party for Mr. Reggie and his wife, the former Doris Boustany, whom Mr. Reggie married in 1951.
In 1992, Senator Kennedy visited Louisiana to tell the Reggies he planned to marry their daughter.
“We knew Vicki and Ted were dating,” Mr. Reggie told the Globe, “and that it was serious, so we weren’t surprised a few weeks ago when the senator called from McLean, Va., and Vicki was with him, and he said, you know, I love Vicki very much and I’ve asked her to marry me, and I want to ask you and Doris and – you know, Ted did it the proper way, and it was so nice.”
In addition to his wife, Doris, and daughter Victoria, Mr. Reggie leaves four sons, Ed Michael, Denis, Gregory, and Raymond; another daughter, Alicia Reggie Freysinger; 11 grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.
Plans for a memorial service were not immediately available.
He was the last survivor of the four children born to Fred Reggie and Victoria Andraous Reggie. Mr. Reggie received a law degree from Tulane University. His family said he was once named the state’s most distinguished young Democrat, and Mr. Reggie was never shy about his devotion to his party.
“When it’s time for everybody to go swimming,” Mr. Reggie told the Globe in 1992, “I always yell, ‘Last one in the pool’s a Republican,’ and that gets everybody moving.”Bryan Marquard can be reached at bmarquard @globe.com.