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Rex 2018, Poco Sloss, will greet his subjects on Mardi Gras

Rex 2018, Poco Sloss, will greet his subjects on Mardi Gras

In Liz and Poco Sloss’ Uptown home, there’s no shortage of family and Mardi Gras mementos. Family portraits adorn living-room walls, and framed photographs crowd a nearby tabletop. In the sunlit den, Ann Lee Stephens Sarpy’s statuettes of flambeaux bearers seem poised to strut across a sideboard.

The dominant, attention-grabbing figure in this multiroom display – a sizable papier-mache model of the king’s float in the Rex parade – sits atop the dining-room table. That replica by Katie Rafferty, flanked by her models of Rex’s Boeuf Gras and Butterfly King floats, is an all-too-tangible reminder of the organization’s 146-year heritage.

For Poco Sloss, it’s also a preview, because he will ride atop the real float on Tuesday (Feb. 13) when he reigns as Rex, king of Carnival.

Even though he has known about this honor since October, Sloss, 64, a man with a bright, open face and an ever-present smile, was still enthusiastic about it a few days before his 24-hour reign.

“It’s exciting as hell,” he said. “It’s a spectacular honor. … I couldn’t be happier about it, but it’s all make-believe, and I think that’s important, and healthy, to remember.”

This is no ordinary year for Rex. Sloss will be Carnival’s king when New Orleans is celebrating its 300th birthday, a milestone that has brought extra attention to the city. The parade’s theme will highlight the city’s first century.

For this role, he is “a perfect choice for the tricentennial because he embodies the best of the city,” said Anne Milling, a longtime friend who, with her husband, former Rex King Milling, gave the Slosses the three float models.

Sloss, who never uses his real first name, Lynes, was sitting in the sunroom, next to a small table topped by a Sarpy statuette of a brightly costumed Carnival monarch.

Being Rex in New Orleans’ tricentennial year is “extremely significant,” he said. “I don’t know how many cities in this country are 300 years old, but there can’t be many. It’s a big deal, and it’s exciting.”

He’ll wear the crown, but being Rex is a joint undertaking for the couple because of the multitude of chores large and small that must be done to ensure a successful reign.

“A king who doesn’t have a wife like Liz, I don’t know how he does it,” Sloss said. “She’s a great organizer. She doesn’t get flustered.”

Liz Sloss went through a version of this pre-Mardi Gras preparation five years ago when their daughter, Nina O’Brien Sloss, was Rex’s queen, so she is hardly bowed down by her behind-the-scenes obligations.

“Being Mrs. King is a great place to be,” she said, smiling. “I get a new dress.”

In the array of memorabilia at the Slosses’ home, family and Carnival histories often intersect because there is a tradition of make-believe royalty in this household, with the most recent addition being the Slosses’ daughter. Liz Sloss’ grandfather, Joseph Merrick Jones, wore Rex’s crown and costume in 1958, six years after her mother, Eugenie Penick Jones Huger, was Rex’s queen.

While lineage may help a young women ascend Rex’s throne, both Slosses stressed that civic activity is an all-important factor in selecting the king.

Poco Sloss’ record on this front is strong. He led the boards that run the Audubon Nature Institute, the Louisiana Children’s Museum and the Bureau of Governmental Research. He is a former member of the City Planning Commission, he is president pro tem of the New Orleans Public Belt Railroad Commission, and he was appointed last year to the Board of Liquidation, City Debt.

“The guy’s truly passionate about helping the city,” said Hardy Fowler, a former Rex and friend since they were children. “I wish we had 10 more like him.”

Janet Howard, the BGR’s former CEO, described Sloss as “one of the most energetic, curious and well-grounded people I’ve ever met.”

“It was an absolute pleasure to work with him because he’s a delightful person,” she said, “and he was so strongly focused on coming up with the right answer and doing the right things.”

Sloss, who has been a member of a long list of boards, had a simple explanation for his activity: “I like to do it.”

“I want things to be better,” he said. “I’m more Poco than angel, but I enjoy working in nonprofits.”

“He’s one of those quiet civic leaders,” said Mark Romig, president and CEO of New Orleans Tourism Marketing Corp. “Poco doesn’t have a giant ego. He’s not the one looking for the credit.”

Regardless of whether Sloss is with colleagues, fellow board members or friends, “he makes people feel good when they’re around him,” said August “Rookie” Leopold Jr., a longtime friend. “He brings out the best in them.”

“This rude and intolerant world needs more Pocos,” Howard said, “because he treats everyone with dignity and respect. If we had more Pocos, the world would be a better place.”

A graduate of the Georgia Institute of Technology with a lifelong love of electronics and putting stuff together, Sloss got into the computer business after three years at a local brokerage firm.

“I was no good at selling stocks,” he said, explaining that he was too empathetic to work with investors who were entrusting their hard-earned savings to him.

So when an offer came to go into what was then the fledgling computer business, Sloss joined friends in buying a ComputerLand franchise. The business grew, and he bought out his partners and eventually was a co-founder of Bellwether Technology Corp., an information-technology services provider. He has been its CEO since 1988.

It’s a serious business, and Sloss is serious about it. But he goes through life as Poco, not Lynes.

Poco, which is Spanish for “a little bit,” was a nickname he got in childhood from his father because he was born six weeks early and weighed only slightly more than 4 pounds.

The nickname stuck, said Sloss, adding that he started using it full-time when he was in seventh grade and hasn’t been called Lynes in 10 years.

He grew up watching parades at friends’ houses along St. Charles Avenue, but he said he never entertained visions of royalty when he was watching the colorful floats roll past.

Instead, Sloss said bluntly, “I wanted beads. I wanted to figure out how to get (riders’) attention to get some beads.”

A 34-year member of the Rex organization who has been chairman of the ball for the past seven years, Sloss has ridden on the Boeuf Gras float and, resplendent in a golden lieutenant’s costume, on horseback.

Riding on the float was better, he said, because his equestrian role put him between purple- and gold-clad lieutenants.

“They’re right next to the crowd,” Sloss said. “The middle’s kinda isolating.”

But on a float, “You’re right there at the crowd; there’s a ton of interaction,” he said. “It’s amazing.”

Pointing to a spot in his backyard, Sloss said: “Somebody as far away as that tree out there catches your eye, you communicate with your eyes, and they point at something, and you try to throw something to them.

“I don’t know how many times I’ve tried to throw something to someone on the street, or on a ladder and you miss two or three times. And then, you’re, I’m gonna get it to them. And they get it and give you a big thumbs up. It’s more intimate than you would think.”

By tradition, Rex does not throw anything to the masses. Being careful to keep his legs together, the bewigged and tunic-clad monarch sits on his throne, beaming and acknowledging the adulation of the masses along the six-mile route.

“My friends tell me that I’m not going to believe how fast it goes by,” Sloss said. “I will be shocked if I don’t think it’s one of the best days of my life.”

After the parade, the ball, the ritual meeting of the courts of Rex and Comus and the Queens’ Supper, the Slosses are heading to Florida for a few days, he said, “and I’ll make the hike from the great elevation back to the ground.”

Sloss, who also is an instrument-rated pilot, hunter, fisher and dirt-bike rider, is “always ready for the next adventure,” Leopold said, “whether it’s in the air or on land or sea.”

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