Meet the King and Queen of Carnival

NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - A decorated combat veteran, James Reiss, III, will reign as King of Carnival. He grew up familiar with the Rex organization through his artist grandmother and never thought, one day, he’d be king.

This year is the 150th Anniversary of Rex, a milestone.

“I couldn’t think of a better year for someone to have the honor and I’m thrilled that it’s me,” Reiss commented.

A native New Orleanian, Reiss recalls learning he would reign as king, saying, “I was absolutely floored and I think I’ve been remaining in a state of shock since that day.”

Reiss has been a member of Rex for years and serves on the board of the Pro Bono Publico Foundation, the charitable arm of the krewe. But his ties to the organization run deep thanks to his grandmother.

“Alice Peak Reiss, we called her Peak, was the royal artist for Rex from the mid 1950s to1968, designing all of Rex’s costumes for the floats and the floats themselves,” he explained.

Her colorful sketches helped instill Reiss’ love for Carnival at a young age.

“If you polled all of my best friends, they’d tell you that Mardi Gras is something I’ve always been involved with and loved and so I think she’d be thrilled,” Reiss said.

He hopes his reign as king will not only be an enjoyable experience for him but will help to shine a light on a topic close to his heart, improving the lives of veterans. Reiss served in Afghanistan as part of Operation Enduring Freedom. He was an officer and a helicopter pilot in the Marine Corps from 1995-2005. During his military career, Reiss was awarded numerous ribbons, awards, commendations, and medals, including the Distinguished Flying Cross for heroism.

Currently, the dad of three serves as the executive vice president of First Horizon Advisors. But as of late, he’s learning a new skill.

“I have gotten some training on how to officially crumb to someone and how to properly scepter. Terms I wasn’t familiar with before but have become so since,” Reiss said.

Come Mardi Gras, the monarch of merriment has this message for the people of New Orleans, “We’ve all been so stressed for so long with the pandemic and hurricanes and everything else that’s on people’s minds and I really hope that they put aside all of that worry and they celebrate and have a great time.”

That’s certainly his plan.

Metairie native Elinor Pitot White is ready for her reign as Queen of Carnival.

“It’s a huge honor and I’m so excited and humbled to have a role,” White said.

The senior at the University of Texas and Country Day alum is active in volunteering. She loves to spend time at the Bright School for the Deaf, founded by her grandmother because her dad is deaf.

“He reads lips so the school started to teach kids how to read lips and focus on that,” she explained.

When White isn’t helping in the community, she can be found outdoors. In fact, her love of snorkeling and the ocean served as inspiration when designing her gown. The garment is also an ode to her great, great aunt, her namesake, Elinor Bright Richardson, who reigned as Queen of Carnival back in 1920.

“We tried to emulate her dress and copy or recreate the intricate beading and what kinda looks like seaweed,” White said.

She admits she’s sad to only wear the beautiful dress for a day, saying she’ll probably put it on a few times afterward, just to reminisce. Looking through old photographs, White admits it’s all a bit surreal. She grew up watching Rex in Uptown from atop a ladder, now, Rex will toast to her. She also understands the responsibility of carrying on this tradition.

Her Rex ancestry is extensive, including a number of Kings and Queens of Carnival as well as Dukes and Maids in Rex’s court.

“We’re just really excited to be able to continue the tradition of being involved with the organization,” White said.

White knows it may only be one day in time but says this will be a memory that will last a lifetime. Maybe, years from now, the family tradition will continue.

“That would mean a lot to me if one of my children (or) grandchildren got to experience the same thing I’m about to experience,” White commented.

White plans to pursue a career in public relations when she graduates this spring. She says her goal for Mardi Gras is to enjoy herself and soak in the moment.

See a spelling or grammar error in our story? Click Here to report it. Please include the headline.

Copyright 2022 WVUE. All rights reserved.

Meg Gatto

Meg Gatto

Meg Gatto is an Edward R. Murrow award-winning reporter and anchor. She joined the FOX 8 team in March 2011 and can be seen on FOX 8 Morning Edition.