Henry Trapani, 'Mr. Mardi Gras' in Jefferson Parish, dies at 97

Henry Trapani

Henry Trapani, 97, is credited with bringing together Mardi Gras krewes in the late 1970s to create a standard route for parades. As the parish's director of Special Events and Carnival, he could be seen along the parade route wearing a white tuxedo. He died Sunday ( Jan. 8, 2017). (Photo by Michael DeMocker, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune) #102968 Mug of Jefferson Parish Parade Organizer Henry Trapani from Jeff Council meeting

The man credited with organizing

season parades in

for more than 25 years died Sunday (Jan. 8). It was Henry Trapani, who brought

krewes together in the late 1970s to create a uniform parade route, along which he could be found year after year overseeing the festivities, donned in a white tuxedo. He was 97.

Mr. Trapani, a World War II veteran born in New York, came to New Orleans in 1968 to manage a department store. In an August 2003 interview ahead of his retirement, he recalled his first Fat Tuesday experience. He and his friends were on St. Charles Avenue near Lee Circle to watch the first parade, Zulu.

"I couldn't believe my eyes," Mr. Trapani said. "Here were grown men and women, scrambling for beads and putting their foot on a doubloon to claim as their own, even if they stepped on a child's finger.

"Well, after a couple of glasses of champagne, guess what? I was going after beads and doubloons, too, stepping on someone's hand if I had to. I was hooked, and I have loved Mardi Gras ever since."

Mr. Trapani left retail in 1975 for a job with the Jefferson Parish Safety Department. A year later, he was unofficially put in charge of identifying and remedying problems during Carnival events. In 1979, Parish President Doug Allen created what would become the Department of Special Events and Carnival (now the Department of Citizens Affairs) and made Mr. Trapani the director.

He would retain the role for 26 years, stepping down at age 84 -- only to come back in 2006 for a year as coordinator of special events.

"What I am going to miss the most are the people, those who work with me in my office and the Carnival captains," Mr. Trapani said in 2003, his eyes welling with tears. "Over the years, the krewe captains and I had our share of disagreements, of ups and downs. But always in the end, we resolved our differences and worked together for one goal: to make the Carnival season in Jefferson Parish an enjoyable and safe time for everyone."

Henry Trapani

Jefferson Parish Councilwoman Jennifer Van Vrancken and Henry Trapani enjoy the King's Day Carnival Kickoff in Metairie in 2015.

Parade-goers could spot Mr. Trapani along the route each Carnival season, easily recognizable in his formal wear.

"When I am walking along that route, people would wave and say, 'Hi, Mr. T.,'" he said. "And I had no idea who the majority of them were, no idea whatsoever. But can you imagine what a great feeling it was to hear your name and see thousands of people who were happy just because they were at a parade? It's unreal, very hard to describe."

Parish President Mike Yenni, who at age 15 began volunteering in the Citizens Services Department and was its director in 2005 and 2006, called Mr. Trapani one of his mentors. He said he relied on Mr. Trapani's guidance when he first entered the public sector.

"He was a leader, a teacher and one of my dearest friends. The mark he left on Jefferson Parish can be matched by no one," Yenni said.

Mr. Trapani is survived by his daughters, Claudia and Fran.

A funeral is planned Monday at noon at Lake Lawn Funeral Home, 5100 Pontchartrain Blvd., New Orleans. Visitation is scheduled to begin at 10 a.m.