My Father

Jesus replied, “And why do you break the command of God for the sake of your tradition? For God said, ‘Honor your father and mother’ and ‘Anyone who curses their father or mother is to be put to death.

Matthew 15:3-4

I assume Judge JJ Lottingger was a competent and honest judge, doing his due diligence and reviewing controversial or unusual Supreme Court verdicts, and that he read books and the daily newspapers, or that he would have somehow else recognized my dad’s name, if only for my grandfather, Edward Grady Partin Senior.

Any internet search today shows that my grandfather was then nationally famous. He was the Baton Rouge Teamster leader who worked with Bobby Kennedy to send Jimmy Hoffa to prison, and he had been showcased nationally for almost a decade ever since he had been the surprise witness who sent international Teamster president Jimmy Hoffa to prison in 1964. His media exposure fluctuated based on the whims of reporters and the FBI, but was mentioned around key dates relevant to his story:

  • The 888 page Warren Report on President Kennedy’s assassination in 1964
  • Multiple monthly Life Magazine monthly feature investigations on the Kennedy assassination and the growing threat of organized crime, aka the mafia, throughout the mid to late 1960’s (my dad and his siblings were part of the focus on Big Daddy in 1964, shared with the newly appointed first family of President Johnsons)
  • Several highly publicized Teachers strikes
  • New Orleans district attorney Jim Garrison’s nationally followed trial against Clay Shaw, the only trial for someone charged in President Kennedy’s assassination in 1967
  • Presidential candidate General Bobby Kennedy’s assassination in 1968
  • Jimmy Hoffa’s final appeal to the Supreme Court and imprisonment in 1968
  • President Nixon’s election after Hoffa endorsed him from prison in 1971
  • National hero Audie Murphy’s death in 1971
  • Jimmy Hoffa’s disappearance in 1975
  • Although classified until 1992, the 1976 formation on the Congressional Committee and their collection of files on JFK after the Warren Report

yIn addition to state and national media coverage around key dates, Edward Grady’s Name name took up the vast majority of references in all the books about Hoffa that had already been published. And Chief Justice Earl Warren, a forty year veteran of the Supreme Court, had expounded on the threat of Ed Partin to the justice system in 1964; Louisiana Governor McKiethen, a respected man with whom Lottingger had worked for many years, railed against Ed Partin “and his ganster hoodlums” in almost every weekly newspaper in New Orleans and Baton Rouge; and my grandfather was a big man, easily recognized aroudn the state capital building ever since the mid 1950’s, a somewhat small building where Lottingger had worked for thirty years. And of course there were the LSU Tiger football players, the Titans and Giants and Gods of Baton Rouge who were recognized everywhere, especially Billy Cannon after his Heismann Trophy award, and Billy and a small army of Tiger Football palyers had inexplicably become my grandfather’s enteroge and followed him everywhere in the 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s.

I can’t imagine Lottingger not recognizing Edward Partin’s name, yet he barely mentioned my father in Partin vs. Partin.

My dad was born in 1954 as the third of five children to Norma Jean Partin and Edward Grady Partin. Norma Jean was a gorgeous, confident, well spoken redhead with dark brown eyes and a voluptuous figure. She was from Spring Hill, Louisiana, near Texarkana and the tri-state border of Texas, Arkansas, and Louisiana. She was so stunning that people compared her to the famous model and actress Marilyn Monroe, whose real name was also Norma Jean, and by 18 years old the beautiful Norma Jean that would become my Mamma Jean was courted by almost every man who meet her, and many made the comparison to Marilyn Monroe in efforts to flatter her.

Her family was spread across the south, and when she visited her cousins in Woodville, Mississippi, she met my grandfather, Edward Grady Partin, a physically large and fit man who was remarkably handsome, with clear skin and rosy cheeks and bright blue eyes and wavy blonde hair with hints of red, and with a charming smile and slick southern accent and sweet words. He was a 26 year old up-and-coming labor union leader who ran unions for both the Woodville sawmill workers and the truckers that delivered raw lumber and carried away cut timber. Almost everyone in Louisiana and Mississippi called him Big Daddy.

Men would recall his brute force, and that’s well documented in all books about Hoffa and in the movies that portray him. He had briefly been a marine during WWII and had boxed several semi professional matches, and part of his calm demeanor came from his confidence that he could take care of a room full of men with his bare hands, and if he needed more than his hands he always carried a folding knife he used for elk hunting in Flagstaff. He knew how to use a knife, and he often went hunting in the woods of Mississippi and the bayous of Louisiana.

Everyone said he was charming. In the chapter about him in Hoffa’s 1975 book, Hoffa begins the chapter about Ed Partin by saying, “Edward Partin was a big, rough man who could charm a snake off a rock.” Mamma jean had thought that too, and she was smitten immediately when she met him that summer of 1953.

As soon as Mamma Jean met Big Daddy, she wrote to her family that she had found a handsome, hard working man who she believed would make a good father. She said that he adored his mother and took care of her, and had ever since his father had run out on them. She said he was a good man.

They were married six weeks after they met, and they began having children nine months later. Aunt Janice was born first, followed by Cynthia, my dad, Theresa, and then Kieth. They outgrew Woodville, and moved to Baton Rouge, where Big Daddy took over the Teamsters Local #5 and forcibly installed one of Hoffa’s men into power in New Orleans. Hoffa was so impressed with Big Daddy’s tactics and that Big Daddy quickly became one of Hoffa’s most trusted lieutenants, a decision that would soon cost Hoffa his presidency and many years of his life, and then his life; if only by cause and effect of many choices his in life, and trusting Big Daddy was just one of them.

In 1963 Mamma Jean fled Big Daddy and hid their five children from him and the Teamsters, placing them with different relatives throughout the south in hunting and fishing camps that were relatively undocumented and difficult to find. She had learned that her husband wasn’t the man she had assumed he was, though he had been a good father to all of his children except my dad – my aunts and uncle would say that Big Daddy was “rough” on him without explaining more – and that he had been married with another family when they met, and that she suspected him of being involved with the mafia and President Kennedy’s assassination, though she never had proof and didn’t discuss her suspicions with anyone out of self-doubt and fear for her children’s safety.

In 1964, Big Daddy helped Sydney Simpson, a 22 year old Local #5 Teamster, kidnap his two young children after losing them in a custody trial in the same East Baton Rouge Parish courthouse that my records would begin appearing a few years later; simultaneously, he was charged with manslaughter in Mississippi, and would have faced trials for both federal crimes, but President Kennedy’s little brother, U.S. Attorney General Bobby Kennedy, had him freed and provided him immunity and cleared his criminal record in exchange for infiltrating Hoffa’s inner circle and reporting “any attempts at witness intimidation or tampering with the jury,” “anything illegal,” or “anything of interest.” Immediately after Big Daddy’s release from the Baton Rouge jailhouse, the director of the FBI’s Get Hoffa Task Force, Walter Sheridan, located Mamma Jean and her children and offered her a deal: if she remained silent and didn’t divorce Big Daddy until at least after they convicted Hoffa of something, the federal government would buy her a house big enough for her and her five children and pay her a monthly stipend equivalent to what she would have received in alimony. She agreed, and later that year Big Daddy became famous as the surprise witness that sent the world’s most powerful Teamster leader to prison; Jimmy Hoffa was said to be the most famous man in America, after John F. Kennedy. Big Daddy testified that Hoffa had asked him to bribe a juror in a relatively minor case against Hoffa using $20,000 from Hoffa’s petty cash safe, and though there were no witnesses or recordings, Hoffa was sentenced to eight years in prison based on Big Daddy’s testimony and the jury believing my handsome, smiling, charming, grandfather. Immediately after the trial, Big Daddy and his children were showcased across national media, without Mamma Jean but implying they were happy, and Big Daddy became was called an All American hero for helping Bobby Kennedy stop corruption in the Teamsters by putting Hoffa in prison.

Few Americans knew the truth about Big Daddy, because he was good at keeping secretes and because Bobby Kennedy and Walter Sheridan had expunged his long history of criminal activity from court houses and newspaper archives across the country. But Walter kept many of his FBI records, and he listed some of Big Daddy’s history his 1972 book, Walter wrote:

“Partin, like Hoffa, had come up the hard way. While Hoffa was building his power base in Detroit during the early forties, Partin was drifting around the country getting in and out of trouble with the law. When he was seventeen he received a bad conduct discharge from the Marine Corps in the state of Washington for stealing a watch.One month later he was charged in Roseburg, Oregon, for car theft. The case was dismissed with the stipulation that Partin return to his home in Natchez, Mississippi. Two years later Partin was back on the West Coast where he pleaded guilty to second degree burglary. He served three yeas in the Washington State Reformatory and was parolled in February, 1947. One year later, back in Mississippi, Partin was again in trouble and served ninety days on a plea to a charge of petit larceny. Then he decided to settle down. He joined the Teamsters Union, went to work, and married a quiet, attractive Baton Rouge girl. In 1952 he was elected to the top post in Local 5 in Baton Rouge. When Hoffa pushed his sphere of influence into Louisiana, Partin joined forces and helped to forcibly install Hoffa’s man, Chuck Winters from Chicago, as the head of the Teamsters in New Orleans.”

Many crimes were omitted from Walter’s book and were being removed from court houses across America. But, even then, and with a quick search on today’s internet, you could see that he had been, and probably still was, a rapist, murderer, thief, lier, adulturer, bearer of false witness (Hoffa even knew that), who had begun skipping church on Sundays. But, in fairness, he loved and honored his momma, and honor, my great Grandma Foster, and I never heard him say anything bad about his father, Grady Partin, which is probably why no one put him to death for ignoring what the bible says about honoring your mother and father.

Chief Justice Earl Warren was perplexed by my grandfather. More specifically, he was the only one of nine judges critical of my grandfather’s character, and the only one to dissent against Partin’s testimony in Hoffa vs. the United States.

By then Warren was a household name, a respected bipartisan Supreme Court judge with almost a 40 year history, having overseen landmark cases such as Roe vs Wade, Brown vs the Board of Education, and the case that enforced Miranda rights, including the right to remain silent; and, most notably, the 888 page Warren Report on President Kennedy’s assassination that the world had waited for and famously but inaccurately concluded that “Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone when he shot and killed President John F. Kennedy.” Of all people, Warren should have had access to all of the facts about my family, yet he was so confused by the situation surrounding Big Daddy and wrote a three page missive of this thought process to forever be preserved in Hoffa vs. The United States for posterity to ponder, not unlike Judge Lottingger had partially documented my family history in Partin vs. Partin for posterity, too.

“Here, Edward Partin, a jailbird languishing in a Louisiana jail under indictments for such state and federal crimes as embezzlement, kidnapping, and manslaughter (and soon to be charged with perjury and assault), contacted federal authorities and told them he was willing to become, and would be useful as, an informer against Hoffa, who was then about to be tried in the Test Fleet case. A motive for his doing this is immediately apparent — namely, his strong desire to work his way out of jail and out of his various legal entanglements with the State and Federal Governments. And it is interesting to note that, if this was his motive, he has been uniquely successful in satisfying it. In the four years since he first volunteered to be an informer against Hoffa he has not been prosecuted on any of the serious federal charges for which he was at that time jailed, and the state charges have apparently vanished into thin air. Shortly after Partin made contact with the federal authorities and told them of his position in the Baton Rouge Local of the Teamsters Union and of his acquaintance with Hoffa, his bail was suddenly reduced from $50,000 to $5,000 and he was released from jail,”


“… Partin’s wife received four monthly installment payments of $300 from government funds, and the state and federal charges against Partin were either dropped or not actively pursued.”

Warren may have known of a few payments to Mamma Jean, but all of us knew about the home and many more payments; those are some of the details of my family history that I know to be true but are undocumented. But, per Mamma Jean’s agreement, no one in my family had ever shared that information publicly until now. Even with only a few payments offered, technically the Partin family is considered America’s first ‘paid informants,’ different than a witness program in which identities are hidden, in that we were paid before a testimony and then we weren’t hidden and our name was known publicly, though the details remained classified or hidden. As I mentioned, my family has a long history of keeping secrets, and we’re pretty good at it.

Earl Warren wasn’t the only person perplexed by Big Daddy’s vanishing criminal history. Jimmy Hoffa had hundreds of millions of dollars at his disposal, and he hired the best lawyers possible to discredit Big Daddy, men who defended high profile cases and mafia bosses and knew how to find information and intimidate witnesses, yet even they found nothing in the years of appeals between Big Daddy’s 1964 testimony and Warren’s 1966 missive, where he wrote:

“Partin underwent cross-examination for an entire week. The defense was afforded wide latitude to probe Partin’s background, character, and ties to the authorities; it was permitted to explore matters that are normally excludable, for example, whether Partin had been charged with a crime in 1942, even though that charge had never been prosecuted.”

Warren concluded:

“I cannot agree that what happened in this case is in keeping with the standards of justice in our federal system, and I must, therefore, dissent.”

Look! and Life magazines focused their monthly investigative issues on Big Daddy and Momma Jean and my dad and his siblings, showcasing them as an All American family and omitting their hiding from the FBI, and disproving claims from Hoffa’s lawyers that Big Daddy had been a criminal; they whitewashed his 1940’s rape of a black girl in Mississippi and his dishonorable discharge after only two weeks in the marines.

It was no secret who Big Daddy really was to people who looked, and I assume the United States Supreme Court looked. Yet, and also despite Warren’s protests, two judges abstained and six voted to accept Big Daddy’s testimony, and Warren’s single vote didn’t matter, the opposite effect of the one juror’s vote that had kept Big Daddy from being convicted of rape, and Hoffa went to prison based on Big Daddy’s word.

My family has remained silent for decades. Now that you know Big Daddy’s part in history, or at least that part, it may be easier to imagine what my 17 year old dad was going through. I’m biased, because I knew all of the people involved, but the simple internet search on my dad’s name told me enough to know that any kid being abandoned must be terrifying, and that sometimes you have to become that which you loath to escape a rough situation, and you become angry and intense because that’s how you learn to take care of things. And I can’t imagine what it would have been like to have Big Daddy be ‘rough’ on anyone if he were upset. His nice side was bad enough; just ask Hoffa.

By 1971, my dad was ruggedly handsome and admirably defiant against teachers and anyone in authority, and, as per many young people in 1971, adamantly against the war in Vietnam that had escalated so quickly after Kennedy died. And then his father was suspected of killing a famous actor, Audie Murphy, and at the time my dad may have had a slight nervous breakdown, just like Wendy had, and that’s when he was living with Grandma Foster and only a few blocks away from Granny’s house and a 16 year old that he said was “fine,” and she smoked his stuff and had a good time and their union led to me.

He proposed marriage when he learned, saying he didn’t want to be like his father, who had abandoned his first family, in a way, and who had been spending more time with poloticians and movie stars than his family. My dad wanted to be a better man than his father, and he and Wendy dropped out of Glen Oaks High School and drove an hour away to Mississippi, where state laws didn’t require parental consent for a 17 year old boy and a 16 year old girl to be married, and my dad still had family with room to spare. States recognize each other’s marriage certificates, and they returned to Baton Rouge and lived in one of Big Daddy’s many houses near forested swamps and tree lined murky rivers, where they could hunt with privacy.

In 1972, around the time of my birth, Big Daddy was arrested again, charged with stealing $450,000 from the Local #5 safe, and the only two witnesses were found beaten and bloody. The safe was recovered in a river near where Wendy was living, and his arrest made front page headlines. And that was around that time my dad left us and rode to Miami with his friends on motorcyles to travel to some island and buy drugs in bulk, and Wendy was left alone with me, without a car or job. As she said and Lottingger documented, she felt emotionally upset, alone, scared, and confused; and she felt she had no where to turn.

I can’t imagine anyone feeling any less in her situation and with the Partin family. It probably left her feeling warped, and she fled Baton Rouge to straighten her self out.

The day Wendy abandoned me in 1972, the daycare center was closing and I was the last baby there and they didn’t know what to do. They called her emergency contacts, but Auntie Lo and Uncle Bob were too drunk to answer the phone and Wendy hadn’t left Granny’s number because they were still estranged. She had given the center Linda White’s name, and when she answered she told her father and he dropped what he was doing and rushed to the daycare center and picked me up, and the rest is history. It’s likely that he had to work during weekdays and couldn’t attend my custody trials, and it’s just as likely that early family court systems didn’t view the opinions of unrelated caregivers as relevant to family matters, but it’s rare to have a non-relative given custody of a minor child, especially one with an extensive family like I had. That was the ex-parte error Lottingger mentioned; a joke Wendy and I would pronounce as “ex-Partin,” and, though she never changed her name, she said that divorcing my dad made her an ex-Partin. As I mentioned, we grew to have our own, unique, insider jokes and humor that few people would understand, especially because it’s such as long story.

“And Kennedy made him a national hero,” my neighbor, Carleton summarized, “and that’s the only reason he didn’t go to jail for rape, murder, kidnapping, and, ironically, perjury? Just to get Hoffa?”

Carleton was a visual editor for small films and local businesses advertising on the internet, and of course had already seen Scorsese’s The Irishman in the big theater downtown. My grandfather had a small part in it as the surprise witness who sent Hoffa to prison, but Scorsese had skipped over details to squeeze the story into theaters.

“But,” I said, hoping to change topics back to my dad. “His drug arrests were already on file. I learned that today. Here…”

I showed Carleton and Cristi the file on my phone. Not only were his old records available, but so were his lawsuits against the states of Arkansas and Louisiana. After he went to prison for drug dealing and after I left Louisiana, he had returned to college and earned saledictorian of Arkansas State University with degrees in political science and history, and then he graduated with honors from law school and had passed the bar in Arkansas and in Louisiana’s unique Napoleonic law system. But, he hadn’t done his homework before starting down his path, and he learned eight years later that both states had laws that prevented former convicted felons from voting, owning guns, or practicing law. He had sued the system and represented himself and won, even taking cases all the way up to the supreme court, and he had been in the news quite a bit when I was younger. In the state’s arguement against him, they had used his drug dealing convictions from when he was 18 and had abandoned Wendy and me to go off to a Carribbean island and buy wholesale drugs, American prescription opiods, probably from new offshore third party manufacturing plants in Puerto Rico back then. Despite his history, he won suits in both states and they changed their laws because of his tenacity, and he became a Louisiana public criminal defendant and fought just as hard for anyone who needed a free lawyer; even the Miranda Rights tell us that. It was all online, and only repeating what had been in the court records and available to Wendy and her lawyers and Judge Lottingger; I didn’t have much more to say about Edward Grady Partin Junior, either.

But, I told Carleton and Cristi, I didn’t know why Wendy hadn’t said anything that would have helped her case, or at least justified her emotions to others.

I sipped my beer and thought about what the bible said about honoring your mother and father. I still didn’t know how to do that, though I believe sharing facts of their lives as if tossing spare change at homeless people wasn’t it. A lot of people go through rough times, and one person’s change wasn’t worth more than another’s. I felt lucky to be alive,

“Maybe that’s all it means,” I said, fighting back tears I felt forming. I didn’t feel like saying more. Carleton and Cristi chatted and let me practice my Miranda Rights and remain silent, thankfully.

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