Mardi Gras 2012's Rex is Hardy Fowler

In an instructive example of the transformative power of Mardi Gras, an accountant who sees the world through owlish glasses on Tuesday will become the ebullient Rex, king of Carnival. Hardy Fowler, 60, is hardly a stereotypical numbers nerd.

hardy-fowler1.jpgHardy Fowler, Rex 2012

The recently retired managing partner of KPMG’s New Orleans office has been active in organizations such as the Bureau of Governmental Research, Junior Achievement, LSU’s Tiger Athletic Foundation and Trinity Episcopal Church. He likes hunting, and he has decorated his Uptown home with the skulls and skins of animals he brought down in Zimbabwe.

But, still, Fowler is an accountant, a tall, silver-haired man who lives in a world of assets and liabilities, profits and losses, and books that must be balanced. Friends praise his passion for accuracy, integrity, selflessness and devotion to duty.

“He’s got a very rational, sound business background that allows him to deal with difficult issues,” said R. King Milling, a friend and former Rex. “What I’ve seen is a remarkable guy who doesn’t try to get out front.”

“He is a Boy Scout of the highest order,” said Lynes “Poco” Sloss, a friend since childhood. “If Hardy takes something on, it’s a guarantee that it’s going to be done very, very well.”

Because of Fowler’s professional experience, he is the Rex organization’s liaison with the private accounting firm that the krewe hires.

Within the organization, Fowler has been in charge of the krewe’s budget and financial activity — no small job, since Rex has about 700 members. Fowler must keep up with such matters as dues payments, the expenses involved with staging a parade and ball, and the sales of Rex-themed merchandise.

In that role, “he has been the backbone of Rex,” said Thomas Westfeldt II, a friend since college who was Rex in 2009.

Fowler’s work as an accountant provided a ruse for the Rex captain to let Fowler know in late October that he would be occupying the throne on Fat Tuesday.

hardy-fowler.jpgHardy Fowler, pictured in his home office, will reign as Rex 2012.

The captain, whose name is never made public, said he wanted Fowler to come to his office to discuss something about an audit. Fowler arrived and was ushered to a conference room. When the door was opened, he saw a roomful of Rex grandees gazing at him.

“My first thought was, we’ve got a major accounting problem — a major fraud, something real bad,” Fowler said. “I remember not saying anything and shaking hands with people at the table.”

But as soon as the captain started talking, “it was obvious” what was going on, Fowler said.

He was sworn to secrecy, but he figured he had to tell his wife, Ellie Fowler, because she would be an important part of the preparation for the most public day of their lives.

But she had been suffering from a tenacious cold, and when Fowler got home, his wife was nearly asleep.

“The next morning, I was sitting in my pajamas,” she said. “He said, ‘How are you doing?’ I said, ‘Better.’

“He said, ‘I’m Rex,’” Ellie Fowler, 60, said. “He needed to tell someone. I was basically stunned. I’m from Monroe, for God’s sake. They don’t have this.”

The Fowlers have kept the secret — no purple, green and gold wreath on the front door that neighbors might see, no piles of invitations and spreadsheets inside that might tip off visitors. In fact, the only hints in their home that Carnival was under way were a tiny purple, green and gold pillbox — their daughter, Annie, received it when she was in the 2001 Rex court — and a small purple, green and gold crown made of clay that their son, Hardy III, made when he was a child, years before he was a Rex duke in 2005.

Both mementos were on a coffee table in the sunlight-filled den, where an orange cat named Skipper prowled. On that afternoon, a few days before Fat Tuesday, the Fowlers were sitting there, taking time off before receiving out-of-town guests and launching on a final hectic round of parades, parties, luncheons and balls.

Being picked to reign “has been fun,” said Fowler, who wore the Rex organization tie — a black number with thin purple, green and gold stripes — with a blue shirt and gray slacks.

But as Fat Tuesday drew nearer, he said, “it’s getting more and more intense.”

Fowler, who grew up in New Orleans, remembered watching Rex as a child while he was perched on his father’s shoulders and snagging a bagful of glass beads made in Czechoslovakia.

“I knew at a very early age the significance of Rex,” he said. “Rex IS Carnival as far as many people are concerned.”

The family’s Mardi Gras base of operations then was the nearby Percy house. Years later, a member of that clan, the novelist Walker Percy, would be one of Fowler’s clients.

Fowler recalled this exchange with the celebrated author:

“I remember asking him, ‘How do you do what you do? You wake up, you shower and you shave, and do you sit at your desk and say, “I’m going to write a chapter today? I’m going to do 10 pages? 100 pages?”’

“He looked at me without batting an eye and said, ‘How do you do what you do?’ Enough said.”

Fowler earned a bachelor’s degree in finance at LSU and a master of business administration degree at Tulane University. He worked for 35 years for the firm that, since 1987, has been known as KPMG. Since retiring in 2009, Fowler has done tax and business consulting, and he sits on several corporate boards.

He got involved in Carnival organizations because that was what his friends were doing. As he became more involved in activities in Rex and the community, Fowler said he thought he might be selected king “at some time… but I didn’t spend a lot of time” musing about that possibility.

And now that day has arrived.

Rex said he has one goal: “I want everybody to have a great time. That’s the most important thing. … I need to be jovial, high-energy, very expressive.”

Ellie Fowler said she is looking forward to being chauffeured around in a limousine with a motorcycle escort and swanning about in a fancy dress and hat that she did not discuss beyond describing her hat as “awesome.”

Rex doesn’t have much in the way of temporal power, but Fowler does plan to stop the parade at The Carol to salute his mother, Betty Fowler, who lives in the apartment building at 2100 St. Charles Ave.

“That’s going to mean so much to her,” Ellie Fowler said.

Being Rex is “a tremendous honor,” her husband said. “It’s an honor to my family. … Life’s good. I’m very happy.”

John Pope can be reached at or 504.826.3317.