‘I miss him a whole lot’: Leah Chase looks back on the incredible life of her late husband, ‘Dooky’

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NEW ORLEANS (WGNO) - New Orleans lost a legend in November when Edgar "Dooky" Chase Jr. passed away.

He was much more than a restaurateur.  "Dooky" Chase played a big role in the Civil Rights movements, and he played in some big-time bands.

News with a Twist looks at the life of Dooky Chase - through the eyes of his wife, Leah.

"African American people had nothing. They use to go to little places and sit down and have a beer and maybe a sandwich. They had no real sit down places," Leah Chase recalls.

Under the leadership of Dooky Chase, Dooky Chase Restaurant set a mark for African-American fine dining.

But quietly, Dooky Chase Jr. was a powerful friend to the Civil Rights movement, even knocking on doors in the Ninth Ward looking for NAACP members.

The restaurant's tables would feed just about every local activist, like Ben Smith and Jim Dombrowski, powerful civil rights attorneys who fought against discrimination in New Orleans; Andrew Young, the New Orleans-born first black mayor of Atlanta; and A.P. Tureaud, the man partly responsible for ending Jim Crow in New Orleans.

"You know AP Tureaud's office was right down the street," Leah Chase says. "We had this room upstairs, and they had a lot of meetings there. The freedom riders ... met here and we would just feed them gumbo and chicken."

Dooky Chase Restaurant was feeding the movement and donating money to progress, including the campaign of Dutch Morial, New Orleans' first black mayor.

"That was our part. That was taking care of business," Leah Chase says.

And beyond the fine dining was the music. Dooky Chase Jr. was 16 years old when he started a big, 17-piece band, Leah Chase says.

"He was proud of that band," she says. "He had some top notch musicians."

Dooky knew all the greats, but more than that - he was one of them.

"I miss him a whole lot," Leah Chase says. "Seventy years is a long time to be a partner with somebody. There's ups and downs, but more good days than bad days."