Garic Kenneth “Nikki” Barranger was a well-known and respected Covington attorney, active in a variety of theatrical and literary pursuits. He was the son of Miriam Barranger, one of the founders of and first president of the St. Tammany Art Association.
Garic "Nikki" Barranger
His community involvements included Playmakers amateur theater group, the Head Start childrens' agency, and literary legends Walker Percy and John Kennedy Toole.
Barranger died at St. Tammany Parish Hospital in Covington on April 15, 2015, at the age of 80 years. Born in December of 1934, he was the son of Dalton Joseph and Miriam Garic Barranger. His obituary notes that he was a native of Covington, he attended Covington Elementary School, St. Paul's College, Yale University and Tulane University Law School.
His interest in the theater prompted him to become a member of Dramat, Yale University's student dramatic organization. According to his obituary, after receiving his law degree, he practiced in Covington and became a senior partner in the law firm of Barranger, Barranger, Jones, and Fussell.
Ox Lot Lawsuit
In one of his more famous legal efforts, he represented the City of Covington in the 1972 case of Ross v. City of Covington, the lawsuit which asserted that the city’s ox lots were public domain and private buildings were encroachments. That lawsuit helped secure National Register of Historic Places status for the city’s Division of St. John. His obituary stated that he later established a solo law practice, where he helped underdogs and always sought that which was "right and just."
Novelist Dr. Walker Percy and Barranger were good friends, working together on several projects, one being the posthumous publication of "The Confederacy of Dunces" by New Orleans author J.K. Toole, as well as helping Headstart services get going in the Covington area.
A Confederacy of Dunces
Barranger was involved in helping the mother of John Kennedy Toole, Thelma Toole, get her son's novel "A Confederacy of Dunces" published. J. K. Toole died in 1969, and his mother strived continuously to have his novel read, edited and published. It captured the attention of Walker Percy of Covington, who in turn, gave a copy of it to Barranger to read, and shortly afterwards the issues arose about the publishing rights.
Barranger worked for a time with Mrs. Toole, navigating the legal ramifications of trying to get the legal rights to the novel settled and the publishing contract squared away. It was a difficult endeavor, and prompted several pages in Toole's biography "Ignatius Rising: The Life of John Kennedy Toole" where Barranger's name was repeatedly mentioned.
The portions of J.K. Toole's biography where Barranger was mentioned.
In 1979, Barranger wrote several letters to Thelma Toole, in one of which he said he thought John Kennedy Toole had been a victim of bad editing and that, consequently, some parts of the book might be lost. The book was preserved, published, and went on to win the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1981. One of Barranger's letters is now part of the J.K.Toole Archives in the Howard Tilton Memorial Library and the Tulane University Digital Library.
New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival
Barranger was also involved in the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, where his legal skills "proved invaluable during his tenure on the board of the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival and Foundation." He served as president from 1993 to 1995 (see plaque below) and was President Emeritus at the time of his death. "He was a Jazz Fest regular and was usually found in the Economy Hall tent," it was noted.
He was also a founding board member and legal advisor to Hospice of St. Tammany, the first hospice established in the parish.
"Over the years, Nikki employed his dramatic talent in stage productions at Tulane's Summer, and Summer Lyric, Theatres; the Gallery Circle Theatre; and Playmakers Theatre in Covington, which he helped organize. His stage appearances were a delight to his audiences," his obituary information went on to say.
"When the Playmakers theatre burned, he worked diligently to preserve the organization and raise the funds necessary to rebuild. In recognition of his many years of involvement and support, he was named an honorary life patron," according to his obituary. He was also active, for a number of years, in editing an abridged version of a Shakespeare play read at the New Orleans Shakespeare Society’s annual gathering.
"He loved opera, possessed in-depth knowledge of all things musical – instruments, composers, and singers – from many eras. He collaborated with folk singer Rose Anne Bivens in many performances and on two CDs."
His obituary continued: "He had an extensive contemporary art collection and was a prolific author. He wrote poems, plays, short stories, and two books, one, “Continuities”, about his father, and another, “Southern Karma”, about his mother. That huge volume, hard-bound and ornately decorated, contained many photographs.
Head Start and Regina Coeli
He helped further minority rights by helping Head Start, and in the establishment of a credit union for African-Americans.
In a history of the Regina Coeli Child Development Center, Barranger is credited with many contributions. In 1968, he helped write a grant application for $45,000 to enable Head Start to operate an eight-week program in the summer of 1969.
CLICK HERE for a complete history of Regina Coeli.
In the organization's official history, Helen Frick noted that the Covington law firm of Barranger, Barranger, and Jones drafted the original corporate charter as an in-kind service for the group. On August 14, 1969, the Secretary of State affirmed that Regina Coeli Child Development Center was officially incorporated as a private, non-profit corporation. The first board members of the corporation included Dr. Walker Percy, Garic K. Barranger, Dr. Suzanne Hill, and Helen Frick.
The Regina Coeli history concluded that "Few Head Start programs in the country can boast of having a Pulitzer Prize winning novelist (Dr. Walker Percy), a Yale educated attorney (Garic Barranger), a university developmental psychology professor (Dr. Suzanne Hill), a Tulane Delta Primate Research psychologist (Dr. Charles Hill), a Baptist minister (Rev. Lawrence Tyson), and an Episcopal minister (Rev. Nolan Pipes) on their original board of directors."
Garic "Nikki" Barranger