This year’s King and Queen of Carnival have strong ties to the Rex Organization and its parade. Rex 2014 Jack Laborde is one of the men literally responsible for the parades that have rolled on the streets for the past decade, as parade chairman. His Queen, Carroll Irene Gelderman, follows family tradition, since her mother reigned as Queen three decades ago.
The King and Queen’s identities were revealed to Rex members at an event Saturday.
“It’s really such an honor to be a part of such a great tradition and it’s particularly exciting because I get to share all of this with my mother, who was queen 32 years ago,” said Gelderman, whose mother, the former Katherine Harcourt Waters, was Queen of Carnival in 1982. Miss Gelderman’s father is prominent lawyer G. Anthony “Tony” Gelderman.
This year’s Rex shares his queen’s excitement.
“I’m honored, pleased and surprised,” said Laborde. “It’s an exciting journey and I’m very happy to be selected by the organization.”
Laborde is a businessman who has spent decades in the oil and gas industry revolutionized by his father, Alden “Doc” Laborde. Jack Laborde is president of All Aboard Development Corp., a New Orleans-based oil and gas exploration and development firm. He is also chairman of the board of Gulf Island Fabrication. Even with a resume full of business, civic and charitable contributions, Laborde said he was surprised to learn of the Rex honor.
“It’s shocking when you get asked. You know you don’t deserve the honor, you know the other members of the organization who they could have selected. I’m still in awe that I’ve been selected for this year.”
He said he learned of his Rex honor by being summoned to a meeting with the krewe Captain and executive committee to discuss the parade, which he oversees as parade chairman and member of the creative committee which oversees the selection of the theme and design and construction of the floats.
“The captain said we had to go face the music, that we had some overruns in the parade and I would have to go see the executive committee and explain my way through this.”
“I walk in the room and one of the members says ‘We think we’re going to have to move where you are in the parade this year,’” Laborde explained, saying that he usually rides a horse with other Rex lieutenants, right behind the Captain and before the king’s float.
“They said, ‘We think we’re going to have to move you back in the parade. Do you want to ride on the King’s float?’ I figured I’m too old to be a page, so I figured out what he was asking.”
Laborde said while he was excited by the news, he was also saddled with the secrecy that comes with the honor, and couldn’t even tell his wife Peggy the news, since she was out of town at the time.
“It is difficult to keep the news quiet but that is the fun of it. That’s part of the mystique of Carnival that we all enjoy in New Orleans.”
Laborde has been involved with Rex and other Carnival krewes in leadership roles. His wife Peggy, a civic activist and volunteer who served on the core committee of the post-Katrina group Women of the Storm, among other roles, was honored as Queen of Mystic in 2009. Their daughter Blayne, an interior designer, was a Rex maid in 2001. Their son, Eric, a urologist at Ochsner, was a duke the year before.
Laborde is a native of Morgan City but came to New Orleans with his family when he was eight years old. His father is Alden “Doc” Laborde, co-founder of Tidewater, Inc., best known for designing a submersible, transportable drilling rig called “Mr. Charlie” that revolutionized the offshore oil drilling industry.
“Dad came to New Orleans from Morgan City to chase his dream of building an operating a movable offshore drilling rig,” Laborde explained. “ODECO (Ocean Drilling & Exploration Company) and Tidewater were offshoots of his original dream.”
The son followed in his father’s footsteps, after graduating from Jesuit High School (where he was class president and football team captain) and Tulane University, where he was a Green Wave football star who led the team to the 1970 Liberty Bowl, Tulane’s first bowl victory in 30 years. He earned his degree in civil engineering and MBA at Tulane.
Laborde’s sports interests later led him to a role as chairman of the Sugar Bowl committee, helping to organize the annual event which continues to be an important economic development engine.
“The Sugar Bowl in its history is a lot like the Rex Organization,” he said. “You’ve taken an event in New Orleans and made it a tradition. Sugar Bowl is Christmas, Rex is Carnival, but the core of those two events is to bring people to our wonderful city which we all love.”
Laborde has also served Audubon Institute, the YMCA and his alma mater, Tulane, on boards and committees for alumni and science and engineering professionals. He also served as chairman of the LSU Health Sciences Center Foundation, a unique job for a Tulane Greenie, he admits.
“I got very involved in LSU Medical School when my son went there, and part of that is working with the foundation and the new LSU and state teaching hospital that is going up now in New Orleans is going to be a life-changer, we hope, to the city and the medical industry.”
This year’s Queen of Carnival – Carroll Irene Gelderman – hopes to make a name for herself, perhaps in the state’s growing film industry. She is currently a film studies major at Columbia University.
She learned of her royal honor while spending time with her family over last year’s Easter break.
“I always come home every Easter to spend time with my family in Perdido Bay, Alabama. But last year I missed my flight on the way home so I was late. When I got home my parents said, ‘We have to talk to you,’” she explained. “I thought I was in trouble, but it turns out they had an early surprise gift for me – that I was Queen of Carnival.”
Her parents broke the news by pasting a small headshot of this year’s queen on a photo of her mother, in her royal attire from 1982.
“Then my mom read a poem about our family lineage within the organization and said, ‘Now it’s your turn to be Queen of Carnival.’”
The same family vacation home in Alabama is where Gelderman’s mother learned of her selection as queen.
“She had been told in the same place 32 years before. Her parents told her in the house next door when she was there for Easter break, so it seemed fitting,” Gelderman said.
She thanked her mother for helping with so many of the duties and obligations that come with the role.
“She’s been having to do most of the organization since I’m up at college. She’s sort of become my secretary of sorts and she also has given me a lot of advice for the big day on things like how to properly use the scepter and keep a smile on my face and stay calm,” she said.
Gelderman’s family lineage in Rex includes her late great-uncle Temple Brown, who was Rex 1992 and remains a beloved figure in the krewe. Her grandmother, Patricia Brown Waters was a maid in 1949, while her great-grandmother was a maid in the 1920s. Other aunts, uncles and cousins have also served as Rex dukes, maids and pages.
“I loved Mardi Gras when I was a kid,” Gelderman said. “It’s always been my favorite holiday. My mom would wake me up early, get me dressed up and then we’d go on First and St. Charles and watch my dad on the Rex title float.”
“Keeping the secret has been so hard for me. My family loves Mardi Gras and I’d love nothing more than to tell them but I know it’ll make it so much more exciting to keep a secret right up until the end,” she said.
Gelderman is a graduate of Louise S. McGehee School, where she was valedictorian and student body president. She was also an athlete, on the school track, tennis and volleyball teams. She was even selected as one of Channel 4’s A+ Athletes during high school.
A lifelong movie buff, she counts “Singin’ in the Rain” among her childhood favorites, and now as a film student lists Wes Anderson as a favorite filmmaker.
The granddaughter of noted author and professor Carol Gelderman, she is also an avid reader, who lists Truman Capote among her favorites. Her debutante party was a “Black and White Ball,” modeled on Capote’s legendary 1966 masquerade ball in honor of Washington Post publisher Katharine Graham.
But even that lavish party can’t top the celebration she’ll enjoy Tuesday as Queen of Carnival.
“For Rex, I hope he has a wonderful time with his family and enjoys his reign. And for the people of New Orleans, I hope everyone stays safe, eats a lot of king cake and just has a great time.”
Laborde shares the sentiment.
“My wish for the queen is I just hope she enjoys the day, and for the people of New Orleans, all we want to do is come out and give them a day, where they can throw their cares out the window - enjoy the people, the costumes, the throws, enjoy the parade and enjoy New Orleans. “