2006Public Service

Katrina's Lives Lost

The life stories behind the storm victims
By: 
Barri Bronston
Staff writer
November 27, 2005

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Susie Joseph Sparks, 1959- 2005
Edward Sparks Jr., 1992-2005
Marjorie Edwards, 1920-2005


Edward "Cool Pop" Sparks Sr. rarely took vacations. There were the occasional bus trips to the Gulf Coast casinos, and every once in a while he'd travel to Atlanta to see the Saints play the Falcons.

But Sparks, 54, was more likely to use vacation days from his job as a Regional Transit Authority bus driver to take care of his elderly aunt, Marjorie Edwards, a former nurse who suffered from diabetes.

"He never took a week for himself," said Sparks' younger sister, Gwendolyn Sparks, a Gentilly resident now living with 13 other family members in a Shreveport Holiday Inn. "He'd take days here and there. He'd use them to take our aunt to the doctor, to the bank and to the grocery store."

His kindness helped him win the hearts of the many passengers he befriended along his St. Claude Avenue route. And as a bus driver for 29 years, it was not unusual for a rider to bring him sweets and snacks as an expression of gratitude.

"He loved his job," said Joseph Dorsey of the RTA. "He worked daily and never received any complaints. He was pleasant to be around. He enjoyed helping people, and being a transit operator gave him that opportunity."

But nothing mattered more to Edward than his wife Susie Joseph Sparks, 46, and 13-year-old son Edward Jr., an eighth-grader at Thurgood Marshall Middle School.

His Aunt Marjorie, a native of Morgan City who spent much of her adult life in New York, was like a mother to him and his six siblings.

"She was so good to us," said Gwendolyn Sparks. "She sent four of my mother's kids to Catholic schools and would send us clothes. When she came for Christmas, she would buy us anything we wanted. The sky was the limit."

Like most boys his age, Edward Jr. was a computer enthusiast and sports fan. To celebrate his 13th birthday, his father gave him a cell phone, which he enjoyed using to send text messages to friends and relatives.

But Edward Jr. didn't spend every waking moment with electronics. "He loved basketball," Gwendolyn said. "He was in the church choir. He was very studious and well-mannered."

Edward Jr. was a member of the Carver-Desire Baptist Church along with his mother, who served as president of the Junior Deaconess Board. "She would visit the sick, fix the communion table on Saturdays," Gwendolyn said. "She did a lot of speaking in the church."

The elder Edward was deeply religious as well, but he was a member of St. Luke's Episcopal Church, where he attended services the Sunday before Katrina. From there, he picked up his Aunt Marjorie on Dumaine Street and headed to his sister's house for dinner.

That night, Gwendolyn prepared a feast of smothered pork chops, french fries and green peas. As her brother sipped on his favorite beer, Bud Lite, the table conversation revolved around the approaching storm.

"My brother wanted to ride it out at home," she said. "My aunt kept saying she wanted to be with someone who had a car. I didn't have transportation, but my brother did, so she went home with him."

As the floodwater rose in and around her Derby Place home, Gwendolyn and her family were rescued by boat. With no attic to escape through at his Lower 9th Ward house on Egania Street, Edward Sparks and his family -- his wife, son and aunt -- had no chance. All four bodies were found on Sept. 27.

Gwendolyn says the cruel irony is that her aunt's house on Dumaine Street was high and dry.

"She didn't have any water," she said. "Zero water. None."

Public Service 2006