DORIAN, LOUIS (1925–1991). Louis Dorian, businessman and community servant, was born on June 4, 1925, in Carincrow, Louisiana. He was the son of Alex and Mary Dorian. After the death of his mother, young Louis, at the age of three, went to live with his oldest sister and her husband in Houston. He attended Our Mother of Mercy School and later graduated from Phillis Wheatley High School. Dorian also attended what later became Texas Southern University in Houston.
Dorian became a well-known businessman in the Fifth Ward community of Houston where he operated C & L Shoe Repair on Lyons Avenue for many years. Affectionately known as "Papa Lou," Dorian was a civic-minded individual who remained very involved in the Fifth Ward throughout his lifetime. He served on the board of directors for the Julia C. Hester House and the credit union board of directors of Our Mother of Mercy Catholic Church where he was a member. Dorian was also a member of the Knights of Peter Claver at his church. His devotion to the community and public service earned him a coveted Jefferson Award from KTRK Channel 13, the ABC television affiliate in Houston. This award is presented annually as part of a “national recognition program for outstanding community service.”
Papa Lou Dorian worked six days a week, eleven hours a day, to maintain his business and insisted that his youngest children work alongside him after school and on Saturdays. Just as important, he afforded the same opportunity to more than 500 boys in the Fifth Ward whom he mentored during the course of his lifetime. He hired them based on need and the ability to work hard; however, just like with his own children, he demanded that all attend church on Sunday and maintain good grades in school in order to remain employed at C & L Shoe Repair. During the school year, for each six-week grading period, Dorian would give $10.00 to the shoe shine boy earning the highest grades. This practice, as well as that of giving an annual Christmas bonus to each boy, continued for forty-seven years. For many of these young men, their Christmas bonus was their only Christmas present. In addition to bonuses, Dorian provided hope, direction, values, and discipline to his understudies. They could also count on him to help with college expenses as they graduated from high school.
Three of the most famous young men to be mentored by Louis Dorian were Mickey Leland, Craig Washington, and George Foreman. All three lived just a few blocks from C & L Shoe Repair, and all three agreed that Papa Lou made a difference in their lives. During George Foreman's mentorship, Dorian often criticized him for hanging with the wrong crowd and getting into fights. Nevertheless, Dorian bought Foreman his first boxing cape that had "C & L Shoe Repair" stitched on the back for all to see. Subsequently, Foreman made C & L one of his first stops upon his return to Houston after winning the Olympic Gold Medal for boxing in 1968. Craig Washington became an elected member of the United States House of Representatives, but he never forgot his days with Papa Lou. Likewise, Congressman Mickey Leland affectionately referred to Louis Dorian as "the old man" and credited how important Papa Lou was to his success. Leland chuckled at the occasion of flying into Houston to attend Dorian’s youngest daughter’s debutant ball and commented, "If President Carter needed me tonight, I would have told him that the old man said I needed to be here; and when the old man speaks, I listen."
Some of Dorian's shoe shine boys made names for themselves, and some did not. However, he was equally proud of those who did and those who did not. No matter where they ended up, they always came back to visit and say thanks for the life lessons that he taught and the financial assistance that he provided. His generosity was exemplified through a former employee who became a doctor in Boston; the youth owed his college degree and his matriculation through medical school to Dorian who sent him money every month that he was enrolled in school and who provided the use of his credit card for purchasing clothes and shoes for school.
Many people patronized C & L because of its reputation for excellent workmanship and because they recognized Dorian’s impressive contributions to the community and wanted to support Dorian's mentoring efforts. He displayed his generosity to his many patrons. One customer recalled that she brought a pair of her daughter's shoes to C & L for repair. Realizing that the shoes were beyond repair, Dorian accepted them anyway. Upon returning for pick-up, Papa Lou provided the customer with a frilly Easter dress, new shoes, and accessories.
In Louis Dorian's lifetime, C & L Shoe Repair was one of the first stops for aspiring African-American politicians in Houston. They valued Papa Lou's endorsement, which was considered essential for a successful campaign. Notable celebrities visited Dorian’s business, including Jackie Robinson, Sonny Liston, Floyd Patterson, Sarah Vaughn, Hank Aaron, Count Basie, Redd Foxx, Joe Brown, Muhammed Ali, Tommy "Hitman" Hearn, and John Wayne (while filming The Alamo).
Louis Dorian and his wife Bertha always resided in the Fifth Ward even though there were many opportunities for them to move elsewhere. When asked why they remained, their reply was always "why wouldn't we." They had six children. The eldest daughter served as judge in the 254th District Court for twenty years prior to her retirement.
Louis Dorian died in Houston on December 7, 1991. More than 1,500 people attended his funeral services at Our Mother of Mercy Catholic Church in the Fifth Ward. He was buried in Paradise North Cemetery.
Houston Chronicle, December 10, 15, 1991.
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