The King and Queen of Carnival


by Dominic Massa / Eyewitness News

Posted on March 7, 2011 at 7:00 PM

Updated Tuesday, Mar 8 at 10:57 AM

NEW ORLEANS – This year’s King of Carnival, Herschel Abbott, says there’s one word to describe how he feels this Mardi Gras, celebrating it as Rex. “One word: overwhelming. Overwhelming and delightful. I can’t wait,” said Abbott.

Abbott and his wife Anne have been involved in business and civic life in New Orleans for more than 40 years.

That includes his time as a partner at the law firm of Jones Walker, then as a top executive with Bell South, from which he retired in 2007. He is now special counsel for Jones Walker.

Abbott moved to New Orleans to attend Tulane University, but grew up in north Louisiana, something he joked about when asked if he ever thought he would one day be king.

“I grew up in Monroe. I figured one ‘Monrovian’ per century was enough, and Denis McDonald already had that (as Rex) and then last year, Hunter Pierson from Alexandria. It looked to me and we had all the north Louisianans we could get!”

But Abbott has made his mark as a New Orleanian committed to improving the quality of life in his adopted home. This list of community groups he’s involved with fills several pages. One of his most special connections is with the St. Thomas Community Health Center.

“It’s become a standard, sets the standard for medical care to the uninsured, does a magnificent job, sees tons of patients,” proclaimed Abbott.

His current resume also includes service on the board of directors of the National WWII Museum, which follows his great love for history. He’s also involved with Baptist Community Ministries, Dillard University, Louise S. McGehee School, WYES, the Boy Scouts, and the Metropolitan Crime Commission, just to name a few.

As someone who is committed to making the city better, he’s also clear on the role Rex plays in civic life, particularly through its Pro Bono Publico Foundation, which has raised more than $1 million for charter schools.

“Rex has always been an organization of men very active in the community. There has been a lot of focus on education since Katrina. For most New Orleanians, the problem has been education. But progress is being made.”

This year’s Rex hopes that when people watch this year’s parade, they’ll also pause to think about the strides the city is making as it continues to rebound.

“I think New Orleans is on the edge of a renaissance and we have only to seize it. But it’s going to require each of us to believe we are at that point. That we have an opportunity that is unlikely come again.”

This year’s Queen of Carnival, Jane Yvonne White, says family means everything to her. So it was natural that her parents would be the ones to tell her that she would be Queen, while paying tribute to her family’s history as well.

“My parents took me to a brunch at Antoine’s and while we were eating my dad said we should take a tour,” White said. “While we were walking around, we looked down and there was a trail of Rex pins leading into the Rex room, so we walked in and the pins led to a photo on the wall of my great grandfather, who was Rex in 1956. On his photo there was also a picture of me,” said White. Then her parents, Harold Hunter White III and Kathleen Viguerie White, presented her with a special Rex pin with the words, “You are my Queen,” confirming the news she’d only dreamed about.

“I never thought this would happen to me, but I always looked up to the queens,” she said. White is a graduate of Country Day and Phillips Academy Andover, who is now an anthropology major at Vanderbilt University.

She was an athlete, involved in varsity tennis and volleyball in high school, and currently enjoys yoga, tennis and horseback riding in her free time. She is a Dean’s List student at Vanderbilt, and plans to study abroad in the summer.

Law school is her next career move, and she’s already had practice as an intern at Orleans Civil District Court, while also participating in volunteer work at school for her sorority, Kappa Delta. Rex roots run deep in her family, including several former Kings, Queens, Dukes, and maids.

Her great great uncle, Lawrence Eustis, was Rex in 1879. Her great great aunt, Elinor Bright Richardson, was Queen in 1920. Her great grandfather, Edgar A.G. Bright, was King of Carnival in 1956.

More recently, her mother was a maid. But experiencing it from the perspective of Queen herself this year will be the thrill of a lifetime. “I’m really excited for Mardi Gras day and watching the parade downtown, that’s something different then I’ve ever done before. I hope we have a great day, with great weather. And to the King, I hope he can keep up with me,” she joked.