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Bayou Icon | The Newmans

By Nathan Coker
In Bayou Icon
Jun 3rd, 2024
0 Comments
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article by Georgiann Potts
photography by Kelly Moore Clark

June 16, 2023, is Father’s Day. For this issue, we proudly honor two special men who happen to be father and son. Ray Newman and his son Todd are both interesting characters, and both are extremely successful. Though Todd did not follow his dad’s military career path, he nevertheless forged a path of his own that has been just as outstanding. Both men are devoted to their family. Both understand the value of hard work and the importance of a man’s word. Because this father and son duo are excellent examples of lives well-lived – even in the face of decidedly different life experiences – we salute them as our Bayou Icons for June.

Ray Newman has spent a lifetime doing hard things and doing them well. So has his son, Todd. They may not always agree on everything, but that doesn’t matter. They don’t share all the same interests, but that doesn’t matter, either. Uniting the two are their shared values and beliefs. Both men trust each other, believe in each other, respect each other, and love each other. Neither would have it any other way.

Comparing Childhoods
Ray Newman’s parents were hard workers who set good examples for him early on. Ray’s dad, Bill, was from Leesville, Louisiana, and worked in Monroe as a barber. Ray’s mother, Mary, was from Strong, Arkansas, and was working as a waitress in a diner in downtown Monroe when the two met. Later she would become a Deputy Clerk of Court. Bill served in the military during the early 1920’s, so Ray understood the importance of military service. Ray describes his parents as “perfect”. He remembers his father’s kindness, and never heard his parents quarrel. 

The young couple settled on Moore Avenue in Monroe. Ray’s grandparents lived in Bosco. Ray remembers going to their home, spending the night, and playing outside. “I never had a bad day as a child,” Ray says. “I was poor, but I always had a job. When I was 8, I sold peanuts on Louisville every Saturday. Later on, I delivered newspapers, mowed yards, umpired baseball, and worked at Monroe Sports and Ball One.” Of all of his early jobs before military service, Ray’s work during college with Louisiana Power and Light ranks for him among the most professionally and personally rewarding. “Cutting right-of-way, using sling blades and chain blades, and being part of the tree-trimming crew were all important learning experiences,” Ray says.

Ray’s parents had “rules” for their son. Church was mandatory until he finished high school, for example. They trusted their son with responsibilities that illustrated that trust. Because both worked, Ray was often on his own. One of Ray’s special memories from his childhood was playing on the first Little League team in Monroe. Games were on Saturdays, and parents did little more than drop the child at the park. Ray grew up in a time when neighbors stepped up to corral kids when others had to work. 

Ray attended Barkdell Faulk for kindergarten, Lida Benton for elementary, and Ouachita High for high school. His earliest career aspiration was to be a Game Warden. Then he found out the course requirements and decided that Economics would be a better choice. He earned a BS in Economics from Northeast Louisiana University (now ULM) in 1964. In 1978 he earned two Masters degrees from West Texas State University.

It was at Northeast that Ray became interested in the military as a career. “In college, ROTC (Reserve Officer Training Corps) was mandatory,” Ray explains. “It paid $22 a month for Advanced.” “Cactus” Jack Collins, a legend today, was a mentor for Ray during his college years. Todd’s dad enjoyed an active military career from 1964 until 1990. He worked at NLU until 2003 as academic advisor to all athletic teams. 

Ray met his first wife, Barbara Gulley, at Ouachita Parish High School. They began dating in college and married in 1967. They had a son, Todd. The two divorced in 1984. Barbara taught school until 1979. She then worked as an AT&T computer programmer until 2010. Ray married his second wife, Lynn Barfield, in 1990. Lynn worked in graphic design at NLU. She died in 2017. 

Todd’s childhood was very different from his dad’s. While his dad had grown up in one place, Todd grew up in many places. He was born at Fort Jackson, South Carolina. For the next 18 years, Todd moved 9 times and attended 6 different schools. From 1966-1967 Sterlington, Louisiana, was home while Ray served his first tour in Vietnam. Then they moved to Clemson, South Carolina, and Fort Benning, Georgia, for Ray’s second Vietnam tour. Next came Fort Bragg, North Carolina, and then Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, where Ray attended Command General Staff College. They moved to Amarillo, Texas, and to Washington D.C. Fort Sherman Canal Zone in Panama was next where Todd graduated while his dad was Commander of the U.S. Jungle Warfare School.

Todd describes his childhood in one word: “Great!” He lived on military bases through the 3rd grade, and then lived out in the country on “farms” from his 4th through 9th grades. There he worked cattle and horses. Because of this traveling life, Todd made friends all over, many of whom he remains in touch with today. Among those are Coach Fred Wagner (1st coach), Larry Cowley (high school math teacher), and Beverly Hoffman (high school English teacher). Todd speaks with Hoffman several times a year, visits with her every few years, and credits her with teaching him to put words to paper.

  “Those early years exposed me to everything so I didn’t really feel like anything was out of the ordinary,” Todd says describing his childhood. “Only looking back do I realize how idealistic my youth was. I saw others as I saw myself. I thought that everybody did what I did. It was only later I learned differently while visiting a former schoolmate in Texas.” Todd reconnected with his friend. During that visit, Todd mentioned that his friend was the first person he knew who had HBO. The fellow laughed and told Todd that while Todd liked to come to his house to watch HBO, he liked to come to Todd’s house for a chance to eat meat!

Todd says that his dad equipped him with everything possible to prevent or deal with any problem that he would ever have in life. His dad viewed fatherhood as a time to prepare Todd for the world. Ray had lost two best friends to senseless accidents over a 2-day period, and then saw 18 and 19-year-olds get killed in Vietnam. “Let’s just say that my ‘training’ came with a heightened sense of awareness,” Todd explains.

Lessons that Todd learned growing up included recognizing both his limitations and his capabilities. “I learned early that a ‘90’ was still an ‘A’. That helped me to realize that I didn’t have to be perfect,” Todd says. “I learned to trust my decisions because they were mostly right ones.”

Shared Characteristics and Passions
When asked recently how much like him Todd is, Ray answered, “No one I know is like me!” When Todd was asked a similar question, he responded, “Others would say we are ‘identical’. We would say we are ‘polar opposite’!” Even so, they share certain qualities of character and certain passions. Both men have the same drive and determination to succeed. Both are loyal, although Todd admits that his dad is a little ahead on this – but not far. Both embrace the belief that they reserve the right to get smarter every day, even as both admit to thinking they already know most all they need to know.

One early shared passion: horses. When Ray was 10, he worked helping with Shetland ponies at Bernstein Park in south Monroe. The fellow there would let Ray ride the ponies to get water. This, Ray says, was where his love of horses began. That love remains strong today in spite of being thrown in 2023 at age 82. He was breaking a young horse when an airplane spooked the animal. Ray suffered a broken femur and hip. He lay in the arena for 3 hours before help arrived. In typical fashion, Ray told others during the ride to the hospital, “At least no one was shooting at me, and there’s a bunch of folks in the cemetery who wish they could have been thrown from a horse today!” Ray recovered, but decided that his horse days were likely over.

Todd’s favorite early “horse” memory was working for Helen Groves, the “First Lady of Cutting” during the summers of 1979 and 1982. Groves grew up on the famous King Ranch in Texas and raised elite cutting horses. During those summers, Todd lived with Harry Price (Groves’ farm manager there) in Middlebrook, Virginia. They lived in Gray Gables (a house that had been built by Hessian POW’s during the 1700s). The two traveled the country for cutting horse shows. Interestingly, Todd’s dad cites as one of his favorite memories of Todd is watching his son compete in cutting horse shows against adults — and winning. 

Both men share an enormous capacity for hard work and an appreciation for what that work brings. Like his dad, Todd had a variety of jobs starting early. He began as a self-described “farm flunky” in the 4th grade, and added to that delivering newspapers in the 8th grade. In the first two years of high school, he and best friend John Frady mowed yards. During the last two years, he refereed soccer and umpired baseball. During summers he worked at Silverbrook Farms for Mrs. Groves. 

During college, Todd worked at County Market, Monroe Building Supply, and Goudeau’s Gym – all while serving as Student Body President at NLU. Todd was named his fraternity’s Outstanding Active in the nation, and competed nationally in power lifting. In that sport Todd was ranked #45 in the world for his weight class.

Todd also shares his father’s natural leadership qualities — qualities that have served them both well. Ray had 6 commands (normally there are only 2) and rose in rank from 1st Lieutenant to full Colonel. During his career in addition to commanding the U.S. Army Jungle Operations Training Center and also commanding the Swamp Phase of the U.S. Army Ranger School, he was an Army Ranger and a member of both the 82nd Airborne and the 101st Airborne divisions. His actions in Vietnam earned him the Combat Infantrymen’s badge, and the Soldier’s Medal (i.e. Medal of Honor in non-combat situations) for swimming a raging river to save 19 men stranded on an island. He was awarded the Purple Heart, a Silver Star, 4 Bronze Stars, and 4 Air Medals representing over 100 actual combat encounters. “Dad is one of the most highly-decorated soldiers from Louisiana in the history of the U.S. military,” Todd proudly explains.

Todd’s leadership qualities have led him to a highly successful dual career in law and business. After earning a BA in Government from NLU in 1987, Todd earned his JD from LSU in 1990. He began his law career in 1990 working at Onebane, Donahoe. He returned to Monroe in 1992 and in 1996 became a partner in Noah, Smith, and Newman. In 2000 he opened his private practice and later brought in partners. Today his firm – Newman, Olivaux, & Magee LLP – practices family law, criminal law, and personal injury law.

  Like his dad, Todd has always loved sports. That interest morphed into a business venture when Todd became a sports agent from 1997-2003, representing several NFL and NBA players, one of whom was the first selection Michael Jordan made as an NBA General Manager. He owned the Monroe Moccasins hockey team from 2000-2001, a short-lived venture but an educational one. From 2008-2015 Todd owned Charitable Bingo Hall. In 2009 he added an ATM company which he still owns today. In 2015 Todd added Trampoline Parks to his business portfolio. Even with all of these ventures, Todd readily admits that being a lawyer has been the best job he has had. “Being one has enabled me to do everything else I love doing,” Todd explains with a smile.

Second Generation Love, Family, and Memories
In 1993, fresh out of law school, Todd went dancing at the Honky Tonk. There he met Kim Crawford. After 2 years of dating, they married in 1995. Kim – besides being known as the “Mom of a lifetime!” by Todd – has also worked throughout the marriage. At different times she has been a dental hygienist/office manager, a pharmaceutical tech, and a bookkeeper.

Together they had 3 children. Firstborn Kelly, a daughter, works at George Welch Elementary teaching special needs children. Their second child, a son named Reagan, was born with cerebral palsy and died at age 4. “Kelly worshiped Reagan, and since then wanted to work with special needs children,” Todd says. “She has her Masters in Special Ed now and has achieved her dream.” Their 3rd child, also a son they named Ty, is currently a junior at LSU. “Ty is a perfect kid,” Todd says. “My dream for him is that he achieves his.” Proud grandfather Ray says that Todd’s children are all a 10 out of 10.

Todd has coached both Kelly and Ty on rec league and school sports. He and Ty have traveled to the World Series and to NBA games as well as to the last game held at the old Yankee stadium. The two also enjoyed attending Derek Jeter’s last game at Yankee stadium. Both father and son share a passion for playing poker. Todd has won several state poker tournaments, and has played in the World Series of Poker twice.

Lessons Learned
Ray has one regret. When his son Todd was born, Ray was on active duty with the Army. Even though the family lived together, Ray’s work days – often 12 hours each – meant that he wasn’t at home with the family much. “I played the role of commandant to him rather than normal father,’ Ray says. “I regret that now.” Born in 1941, Ray was part of a generation when fathers were not necessarily involved with their children. Instead, Ray explains, “Fathers worked and established ‘rules’ and often missed things like ballgames.”

Todd regrets that there wasn’t time when he was growing up for the two of them to develop more common interests. Todd learned to listen to what his dad told him because he knew that no one on earth had a greater interest in seeing him succeed. Looking back, Todd says that his dad’s major contribution to his life was being the driving force behind his success despite knowing little about the things Todd has done to achieve that success. 

Today, Ray is moving a little slower but is still a force to be reckoned with. He speaks with pride about his son, his grandchildren, and their lives. Memories from his Vietnam tours flow freely, as do memories of a special love – duck hunting. He will quickly tell you about his 3 Labrador retrievers – all champions and each already fully trained when he bought them. Today his best buddy is a small Yorkie that happily joins him in his recliner. “Pup” is his close companion.

Todd has changed, too. Today — while he enjoys many pursuits — he is focused on one specific area – coaching young kids. He coached daughter Kelly’s first team named “The Pink Team.” That morphed into a 24-year coaching stint – and Todd has loved every minute! He founded the summertime Bayou Belle Softball Club for girls aged 6-8 to provide a sports opportunity for them. When asked recently about Todd’s coaching, one parent said that he is pure magic with those children!

Umberto Eco (Italian novelist and philosopher / 1932 – 2016) wrote the following: “I believe that what we become depends on what our fathers teach us at odd moments when they aren’t trying to teach us. We are formed by little scraps of wisdom.” (Foucault’s Pendulum) There are evidences of this truth in Ray’s and Todd’s relationship. Both men are blessed.