The Port Arthur News
The familiar notes of Amazing Grace, sung with a country twang, broke the mournful silence at St. Jude Thaddeus Catholic Church on Friday.
Country music artist and Beaumont native Tracy Byrd delivered the music from one corner of the crowded church. But there was no applause following the song, no fanfare as Byrd provided the vocals for a portion of the funeral Mass for longtime friend and KFDM-Channel 6 anchor Bill Leger. The newsman spent five days on the road with Byrd in California and Nevada during the 1990’s.
Leger, 48, died in a car wreck on Dec. 22 just north of Scott, La.
Leger’s co-workers, dressed in dark clothing and seated together in the church, sported a tiny blue ribbon on their lapels. The familiar faces of broadcast news as well as those who work behind the scenes held somber expressions as the Rev. John Hughes officiated over the Mass and Bishop Curtis Guillory offered words of comfort to the grieving.
“Whether you knew him or saw him on the news he was part of our lives,” Hughes said adding that many likely had questions as to why Leger was taken from this earth. “But if you had the answer that wouldn’t change the outcome.”
And while Leger is momentarily separated from family and friends there will be a reunion one day as all are united, he added.
“In time we pray that our troubled hearts give way to peace,” he said.
Guillory, who hails from Louisiana as did Leger, used humor and scripture to offer comfort. He told the crowd of how the two would exchange “Boudreaux-Thibodeaux” jokes.
“Every time I met Bill he would ask ‘do you have a Boudeaux-Thibodeaux joke?’ You’d think a good Catholic wouldn’t be asking the bishop for a joke and you wouldn’t think the bishop would have one,” Guillory said with a chuckle.
The two men were at a recent function for Catholic Charities Harvest of Hope when Leger passed a joke to Guillory to see if the bishop felt the joke was appropriate — the answer, “I don’t think that’s a good idea.” So when Leger took his turn to speak he told the crowd he had had a Boudreaux-Thibodeaux joke but “the bishop told me not to tell it.”
A gathering of family and friends immediately followed the funeral Mass at the nearby Family Life Center. Numerous people were in attendance including the former mayor of Beaumont Evelyn Lord, a Boy Scout troop, attorneys Jim Wimberly and Lance Bradley, Judge Bob Wortham, Verna Rutherford, former president of the Greater Port Arthur Chamber of Commerce and spokesperson for Motiva Port Arthur and media from past and present.
Jackie Simien, KBMT 12-ABC co-anchor and former co-anchor for KFDM 6-CBS, called Leger “Cousin Bill.” Simien has family in Louisiana with the Leger name and the two joked they were probably related.
“Bill was as wonderful as you thought he was. He really was that guy,” Simien said. “For me, right now, a world without Bill Leger is unrecognizable.”
Simien had known Leger for 13 years and spent five years as co-anchor on the 10 p.m. newscast. They last worked together when the acted as masters of ceremony for the Cattle Baron’s Ball and were going to work together again for an upcoming Mardi Gras function, she said.
Larry Beaulieu, former KFDM manager, said Leger had a special set of skills that allowed him to excel adding that Leger was somewhat low key in his presentation, “not over the top, big star.”
He called Leger a real family guy who spent many hours involved with community events as well as with his role as journalist.
“We (co-workers) were talking earlier, he could have professionally worked in any of the major markets, Los Angeles, New Orleans, Dallas. But as far as I know he never entertained thoughts of going,” Beaulieu said.
Leger leaves a legacy not only to the industry and the area but to the many community organizations to which Leger worked with.
KFDM meteorologist James Brown described Leger with two words, “gentle man.”
“He loved to have fun and to be around people,” Brown said.
KBMT 12-ABC and KBTV-Fox 4 stepped in to assist fellow media at KFDM during the noon broadcast so all of the Channel 6 family could attend the service.
“That says a lot about the tribute to Bill Leger,” Brown said. “We came together. It’s not about the ratings, it’s about the love and support. This is how Bill would have wanted it.”