Notable Deaths of 2007

by Arkansas Business Staff  on Monday, Dec. 24, 2007 12:00 am  


Elsijane Trimble Roy of Little Rock, 90, the state's first woman Supreme Court justice and the state's first woman federal judge, died Jan. 24. Roy was Arkansas' first woman circuit judge, the first woman appointed in the 8th Circuit and was the first woman to follow her father as federal judge. In 1975, Gov. David Pryor appointed Roy to the Arkansas Supreme Court to fill the unexpired term of retiring Justice Lyle Brown. She was later appointed to replace retiring Justice J. Fred Jones. President Jimmy Carter appointed Roy to a federal judgeship in October 1977, and she retired in 1999.


C.E. "Doc" Toland, 85, former chairman, president and chief executive officer of Affiliated Foods Southwest of Little Rock, died March 12. He was a noted champion of serving the independent retailer in Arkansas and made immeasurable contributions to the retailer-owned segment of the food industry. Toland began in the retail grocery business with his own grocery store as a 20-year-old in 1936, and later grew Affiliated Foods to annual sales of more than $560 million.

John Woodruff, 65, longtime communications coordinator for the Arkansas Municipal League and a former reporter for the Arkansas Gazette, died March 27 following a long battle with cancer. He was legendary as both a newsman and a marathon runner, having worked as a reporter for the Gazette from August 1969 until it closed in October 1991, mainly covering the North Little Rock city government, school district and police department. Although Woodruff lived in Little Rock, North Little Rock Mayor Pat Hays declared "John Woodruff Day" after the Gazette ceased publication. After the Gazette closed, he produced the Arkansas Municipal League's monthly City & Town magazine.


Cecil E. Williams Jr., 74, of West Memphis, the long-time executive vice president of the Agricultural Council of Arkansas, died April 12. He headed the council from 1965 to 2002 and was known as the "dean of the farm bills" for his strong grasp on complex farm issues and his ability to break them down so others could easily understand them. Williams was executive vice president of the Cotton Producers of Missouri at the time of his death.

Helen Walton, 87, philanthropist and matriarch of the world's largest retailer, died of natural causes April 19. The widow of Wal-Mart founder Sam Walton, she was president of the Walton Family Foundation in 2002 when it made a $300 million donation to the University of Arkansas, which is the largest contribution ever made to a public university in the United States. She was also active at the University of the Ozarks, a private Presbyterian school to which the Walton Family Charitable Support Foundation donated $39.5 million in 1997 and another $20 million in 2006. Mrs. Walton also helped lead a group of investors in opening Bentonville's Helen R. Walton Children's Enrichment Center in 1982, and she served on its board for six years. Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe said Helen Walton "helped set the standard for philanthropy in our state."

George Howard Jr., 82, Arkansas' first black federal judge, died April 21. Howard, appointed in 1980 by President Jimmy Carter, gained national attention as he presided over the "Whitewater" trials that ultimately led to the bank fraud convictions of Jim and Susan McDougal and former Gov. Jim Guy Tucker. Gov. Winthrop Rockefeller appointed Howard to the state Claims Commission in 1969. He then went on to serve on the state Supreme Court and the Arkansas Court of Appeals before moving to the federal bench, becoming the first black person to hold each of those positions in Arkansas. Howard also worked with the NAACP, serving as president of the State Conference of Branches.


William E. "Bill" Clark, 63, chairman and chief executive officer of CDI Contractors of Little Rock, died of cancer on May 15. Clark partnered with Dillard's Inc. of Little Rock to form the commercial contracting firm in March 1987, and grew it into one of the state's leading construction companies. CDI Contractors landed several high-profile projects, including the Clinton Presidential Library. Former President Bill Clinton wrote that Clark was "a brilliant contractor, a fine citizen, a devoted husband, father, and grandfather, and a very good man." In October, the library announced plans for the William E. Clark Presidential Park Wetlands Project, a $2 million wetlands conservation preserve near the Clinton Library and Riverfront Park in downtown Little Rock. It will be funded with federal grant money and private donations. He was a board member of the Arkansas Arts Center Foundation, the Little Rock Boys and Girls Club, Ouachita Baptist University Business Advisory Council, Simmons First National Corp., Baptist Health, Episcopal Collegiate School Foundation, the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences Center on Aging and the UAMS Foundation, among many others. Included among the numerous awards he won were the Edwin N. Hanlon Memorial Award for Contributions to the Arts, the Winthrop Rockefeller Memorial Award from the Arkansas Arts Center, the Arkansas Sheriffs' Youth Ranches Arkansas Children's Award, Boys and Girls Clubs of America National Service to Youth Award and the Arkansas Business Executive of the Year.

William Joseph "Bill" Gaskin, 62, a registered architect, president and sole owner of Gaskin Hill & Norcross Architects-Engineers of Little Rock, died May 15 after more than a decade-long battle with cancer. Gaskin's work can be seen throughout the state in structures like the Donald W. Reynolds Center for Business & Economic Development at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, the Arkansas Bar Center and bank branches for First Security Bancorp. Gaskin served as president of the Arkansas Chapter of the American Institute of Architects, president of the board of directors of the Arkansas Governors Mansion Association, president of the Arkansas Governors Mansion Commission, and president of the University of Arkansas School of Architecture Professional Advisory Board. Gaskin also chaired the Little Rock Arts & Humanities Council and the City Beautiful Commission and served as an elder of Second Presbyterian Church.



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