Mardi Gras 2013: Rex talks fast and stays busy, at work and in the community

William H. Hines, Rex 2013, outside his Uptown house. (Photo by Ted Jackson, | The Times-Picayune)
John Pope, | The Times-Picayune By John Pope, | The Times-Picayune
Email the author | Follow on Twitter
on February 09, 2013 at 5:00 PM, updated February 09, 2013 at 11:35 PM

William H. Hines is a fast talker – so fast that his words tumble over each other and his sentences often veer off in unexpected directions. But even this self-confessed Type A personality, who compartmentalizes so well that he can manage a 385-lawyer firm while performing a multitude of civic activities, was at a loss for words last November, when the Rex organization’s selection committee told him he would reign on Mardi Gras as Rex 2013, king of Carnival.

“I was surprised,” he said. With a chuckle, Hines added, “I was wondering if I was the second or third choice because they waited so long to tell me.”

Given Hines' reputation for loquacity, one member of the group showed up with purple, green and gold duct tape to cover Hines’ mouth if he felt like sounding off.

“I’m a native New Orleanian,” Hines, 56, said a few days before his upcoming 24-hour reign. “I think (Rex) is the ultimate representation of our culture. . . . I think I lead a very serous life, but I think if you grew up here and love Mardi Gras, which I do, it’s the ultimate honor.”

Hines’ love of Mardi Gras in general, and Rex in particular, was on display in the antiques-filled Uptown living room where he sat with his wife, Mary. Next to a window, atop an 18th-century French desk, sit some pieces from Hines’ collection of Rex favors, including a letter opener from 1900, a Tiffany-like bud vase from 1905, a black Art Nouveau vase from 1917 and a miniature king’s float from 1954.

Those have always been on permanent display, he said, and aren’t on view simply because he’s going to be Rex. Hines left them in place after he got the news. “If I took them away, someone would say, ‘Is something going on?’” he said.

Anything directly connected with Hines’ upcoming reign was upstairs -– in a locked room so that the couple's three children, including former state Rep. William W. Hines, wouldn’t learn their father’s secret prematurely. He didn’t tell them until right before the Super Bowl.

In addition to the Rex organization tie –- a black number with thin purple, green and gold stripes –- Hines wore golden Rex organization cufflinks featuring a lion with faux-ruby eyes. This bejeweled animal, which also appears on the organization’s ducal pins, was taken from a design on the gauntlets that Burris Wood, Rex 1886, wore during his reign. “I like antique New Orleans things,” Hines said.

He is the chairman of what he calls the Rex organization’s creative committee, whose responsibilities include not only the cufflinks and pins but also the theme of the parade, which is chosen at least three years in advance.

In addition to work for the krewe, public service is an implicit requirement for any man who might become Rex. Hines is no slouch in this department, with organizations, chairmanships and awards that fill a 10-page, single-spaced resume.

“He’s such a high-energy-level person that it makes you dizzy,” civic activist Anne Milling said. “It’s that ability to be able to multitask and focus his talents on several projects at once and get them done.”

For starters, Hines, a graduate of Princeton University and the University of Virginia School of Law, is managing partner of Jones Walker, which has 385 lawyers in 17 offices. He also is chairman of the Downtown Development District, the Committee of 100 for Economic Development and the Idea Village, an organization that identifies and supports budding entrepreneurs and works to keep them in New Orleans.

In addition to serving on law-related committees at the local, state and national levels, Hines sits on the boards of a staggering number of organizations, including the New Orleans Regional Medical Complex, the Greater New Orleans Sports Foundation, UNITY of Greater New Orleans, the New Orleans Recreation Department Foundation and the Tulane University President’s Council.

He also has been a driving force behind Greater New Orleans Inc., which promotes economic development, and the Committee for a Better New Orleans, a group of business, civic and community leaders who study topics such as transportation and education and devise strategies to improve them.

And Hines was part of the group that helped bring the Hornets to New Orleans. Though there had been some opposition to that initiative, “Bill had a vision that made him fearless, and he pushed it through,” said Bob Brown, a friend who is managing director of the Business Council of New Orleans and the River Region.

“He wasn’t the only one” in those negotiations, Brown said, “but from the city’s point of view, he certainly was a pivotal figure.”

“I do it because I love doing it,” Hines said of his many activities. “I enjoy it, whether it’s social service or things like UNITY, or things like the Hornets that are a little more fun, or economic development matters that are drier. They’re not as much fun or as heart-tugging as social issues, but to me, they’re all enjoyable.”

What Brown regards as Hines’ ultimate commitment to duty came last October, when he kept a commitment to speak to a Committee for a Better New Orleans gathering, even though a close friend had been shot in his driveway in a robbery. Hines showed up after going to the hospital, Brown said. “He was distraught, but he talked in the most heartfelt way about community development and community pride.”

Hines started getting involved in civic activities soon after he returned to New Orleans from law school in 1982. What made him decide to step up his community commitment was the sudden death of his father, Billy Hines, in September 2001 at age 70 after suffering a stroke.

“He had a very successful legal career but, frankly, had not done much public service,” Hines said. “I had always been interested in that. I was primarily working on my legal career, and I think it was going well. I was doing some civic work, and I just decided that if I really wanted to make a contribution, I had better get on with it.”

In choosing what he will do, Hines said, he tries to have one arts-related organization, a social service activity and something concerned with economic development.

By the time Hurricane Katrina struck in August 2005, Hines said he had begun to see progress in his fields of endeavor. After the storm pummeled New Orleans, the federal floodwalls failed and floodwaters inundated 80 percent of the city, including his neighborhood.

During the next two months, Hines tried to resume something approaching a normal work routine. As he traveled around the state, he said he met people “who wanted to put New Orleans out of business.” But that didn’t happen.

“After Katrina, the whole community got it,” Hines said. “Katrina gave us the reset button, and everybody just jumped in. I think we would have gotten it done (without the storm), but it would have taken us 20 years.”

Hines was behind many of those initiatives to rebuild the city, said Ron Forman, president and chief executive officer of the Audubon Nature Institute. “He’s everywhere in our city with his diverse interests, but it all comes together to make New Orleans a better place,” Forman said. “He’s the first one in a meeting and the last one to leave.”

Queen of Carnival, Nina O'Brien Sloss, loves her 'eccentric' hometown