NEW ORLEANS -- After 70 years of marriage, musician, restaurateur, and civil rights advocate Edgar “Dooky” Chase Jr, died Tuesday at the age of 88.
Dooky and his wife Leah turned his parents' sandwich shop on Orleans Avenue in Treme into a famous restaurant known worldwide. Presidents, celebrities, and entertainers have all dined there.
On Wednesday his wife Leah shared some memories. "This is going to be a rough one for me but I'll make it," she said.
Wednesday was another busy day at the famed Dooky Chase's Restaurant. Leah Chase, 93, worked in the kitchen. She has not taken a day, off even though her heart is heavy with the loss of her husband.
"That's my life,” she said. “I could sit home and I could cry and that would do no good. I'll come in this kitchen every day and the more people I see, the better it is for me."
Leah recalls his hard work at the restaurant. "Never drank a drink, but could make you the best drink you ever drank. It was amazing what he did," said Leah.
She said the restaurant work was a sacrifice. Dooky went to work at the family restaurant to help his mom when his dad, Dooky Sr, died. His true passion was music.
"That is my big regret," said Leah about her husband not fulfilling his dream to be a full-time musician. "Dooky's band was the first band here to play progressive jazz. Everybody was playing Dixieland, New Orleans jazz, rhythm and blues, things like that."
When the civil rights movement began, noted leaders and organizers met in Dooky Chase's, upstairs, planning strategy.
"Dooky was a big supporter of civil rights. Dooky worked hard with the NAACP. He would go from door to door getting memberships," she said.
People told Leah the marriage would never last. She was the older woman at 23, and he was 18. But 70 years later with four children, 16 grandchildren, and 26 great-grandchildren, they were all wrong.
"He was my big support,” said Leah. “He had my back all the time, so I'm going to miss him. But I'm going to carry on for him and my children. I want Dooky to be looking at me from heaven and I want him to be proud of me."
Wednesday, Mayor Mitch Landrieu issued the following statement on Edgar "Dooky" Chase, Jr :
"On behalf of the people of New Orleans, I extend my sincerest condolences to Mrs. Leah and the Chase Family on the passing of Edgar "Dooky" Chase, Jr. Mr. Chase was a jazz musician, owner of the world-famous Dooky Chase's restaurant and a generous civic leader. As the patriarch of a great New Orleans family, he was a man dedicated to faith who had an infectious smile, a word of wisdom or joke for anyone who came through his doors on Orleans Avenue. Dooky Chase was a New Orleans legend and leaves a legacy of kindness and generosity for us all. He will be missed."
Photo of Dooky Chase Orchestra courtesy Hogan Jazz Archive of Tulane University