Arkansas Business Looks Back at Notable Deaths of 2015


Miller Williams, 84, a Hoxie native considered one of the foremost contemporary poets in the United States, died Jan. 1. Williams, founder of the University of Arkansas Press and a long-time professor at UA, read a poem at President Bill Clinton’s 1997 inauguration.


Herman Tuck, 85, who founded the renowned Herman’s Ribhouse in Fayetteville in 1964, died Feb. 2. A Fayetteville native, Tuck was also a talented drummer who played with Ronnie Hawkins’ first band.

Thomas Archie Monroe, 105, died Feb. 3. Monroe owned and operated the Magnolia Insurance Agency, which was founded by his father, had served as president for the First National Bank of Magnolia and was a founder of First Federal Savings & Loan Association of Magnolia. He also twice served as president of the Magnolia Chamber of Commerce and became the unofficial historian of Magnolia and Columbia County.


Larry Fugate of White Hall, 69, who spent 50 years in journalism as a reporter and editor at the Jonesboro Sun and later as an editor at the Pine Bluff Commercial, died March 5. His Jonesboro Sun reporting team was runner-up for a Pulitzer Prize in 1999 after the 1998 Westside school shootings in which two students fatally shot five people.

Richard “Dick” Bell, 81, Arkansas’ first agriculture secretary, died March 13. Bell, a former president and CEO of Riceland Foods Inc. of Stuttgart, served as chief of the Arkansas Department of Agriculture from 2005-12. He spent 27 years at Riceland and built the cooperative into the world’s largest miller and marketer of rice after working in international affairs for the U.S. Department of Agriculture. He was a 2003 inductee in the state’s Business Hall of Fame, a 2004 inductee in the Arkansas Agriculture Hall of Fame and in 2009 was named one of Arkansas Business’ 25 Living Legends.

Stacy Lynn Duckett, 50, of North Little Rock, vice president and chief compliance officer at Southwest Power Pool in Little Rock, died March 20. Duckett began working at SPP in 2000 as an attorney in the transmission and regulatory policy group. Before joining SPP, Duckett had worked at TCBY Enterprises Inc. of Little Rock, eventually becoming vice president and assistant general counsel.


John Paul Hammerschmidt of Harrison, 92, who in 1966 became the first Republican elected to Congress from Arkansas since Reconstruction and served as Arkansas’ 3rd District congressman for 26 years, died April 1. Hammerschmidt saw service in World War II as a pilot in the Army Air Corps, earning four Distinguished Flying Crosses among other honors, and turned to politics after 20 years as a lumberman, builder and building supplies businessman. He received praise for his constituent service and paid particular attention to infrastructure and veterans matters. Hammerschmidt wrote the law that preserved the Buffalo River as the nation’s first national river and introduced the bill to create the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington. The closest he came to being defeated during a congressional election was in 1974, when a young Bill Clinton challenged him. Hammerschmidt retired from Congress in 1993. He was a “lifetime trustee” of the University of the Ozarks at Clarksville and a former chairman of the board of trustees at Arkansas State University and served on the boards of four Arkansas-based corporations: American Freightways, now part of FedEx Freight; Bear State Financial; Dillard’s Inc.; and Southwestern Energy Co. (now headquartered in Houston).

William Gregory “Greg” Chance, 63, news director at KASU in Jonesboro, Arkansas State University’s public radio station, died April 14 after suffering a heart attack while driving and hitting a tree.

William Terry “Bill” Valentine Jr., 82, general manager of the Arkansas Travelers Baseball team from 1976-2009, died April 26. Valentine, raised in Little Rock, was known for his colorful promotions, acts like the San Diego Chicken and Captain Dynamite. He was inducted into the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame and the Texas League Hall of Fame. The National Association of Minor League Baseball Teams named Valentine Executive of the Year in 1976, 1977, 1978, 1988, 1999 and 2007, as well as proclaiming him “The King of Baseball” in December 2014.


Barry Felton, 63, a partner in the family business, Felton Oil Co. of El Dorado, died May 12. He was a past president of the Arkansas Oil Marketers Association and served on the boards of First National Bank of El Dorado and the El Dorado Golf & Country Club.

George Haley, 89, the last survivor of the “Six Pioneers,” a group of students who desegregated the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville, died May 13 at his home in Maryland. He became the second black student to graduate from the University of Arkansas Law School in 1952. Haley, raised in Pine Bluff, joined a law firm in Kansas City, Kansas, and went on to serve as deputy city attorney and a Republican state senator. He later entered government service and was chairman of the U.S. Postal Rate Commission and U.S. ambassador to Gambia.


Floyd Lee Williams II, 89, a longtime aide to Sen. J. William Fulbright of Arkansas, died June 3 as his home in Arlington, Virginia. He worked for Fulbright from 1955-1974, eventually becoming chief of staff. Williams served as a mentor to a young Bill Clinton, hiring him to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee staff while Clinton was attending Georgetown University. Williams also was general counsel to the Senate Democratic Policy Committee from 1974-1978, and an adviser to Senate Majority Leaders Mike Mansfield of Montana and Robert Byrd of West Virginia.


William H. “Buddy” Sutton, 84, a former chairman and managing partner of the state’s largest law firm, Friday Eldredge & Clark of Little Rock, died July 2. He joined the Friday firm in 1959 and led the firm’s trial department. Sutton was the first chairman and managing partner of the firm after the death of Herschel Friday in 1994. His clients included some of the top names in Arkansas business, including publicly traded department store chain Dillard’s Inc. of Little Rock, and his philanthropy and volunteer efforts bolstered universities, a law school and nonprofits throughout the state. He retired in 2005 but continued serving of counsel. In 2002, he received the National Humanitarian Award from the National Conference for Community & Justice of Arkansas, Easter Seals named him Arkansan of the Year in 2004, and Ouachita Baptist University named the W.H. Sutton School of Social Sciences in his honor.

Jim Gaston, 73, the Arkansas outdoorsman who transformed his father’s resort into a world-class destination for trout fishing, died July 13. Gaston was a pioneer in the marketing of the state as a tourist destination. He received the Legacy Award from the Arkansas Game & Fish Foundation earlier this year. Gaston held various leadership positions with the Arkansas Hospitality Association and the Mountain Home Chamber of Commerce and had been president of the Arkansas Tourism Development Foundation since its founding in 1970. In 2011, Gaston was named Arkansas Business’ Executive of the Year.

Ronald “Ronnie” Herman Udouj, 74, of Fort Smith, co-owner of Bradford & Udouj Realty, general manager of Riverside Furniture and chairman of the board of River Valley Bank & Trust, died July 27.


David Watkins, 61, city manager of Hot Springs, died Aug. 17 after suffering injuries in a fall at his home. Before coming to Hot Springs in 2012, Watkins was the city manager of Auburn, Alabama, and Bryan, Texas.

John Correnti, 68, chief executive officer of Big River Steel in Osceola, died Aug. 18 while on a business trip to Chicago. Correnti, described as a “steel man’s steel man,” was leading the construction of the $1.3 billion steel mill in Mississippi County. Correnti started at U.S. Steel in 1969, where he worked in construction management until 1980. He joined Nucor Corp. that year and went on to rise to president and CEO of the company, only to be forced out by a newly named chairman in 1999. Correnti was CEO and chairman of Birmingham Steel Corp. for three years from December 1999 to December 2002. He founded steel development company Severstal Columbus LLC in 2005, serving as president and CEO. The company built a $980 million plant near Columbus, Mississippi, which opened in September 2007.


Jim Porter Jr. of Little Rock, 83, an entertainment promoter, agent and manager who was instrumental in integrating music venues in Arkansas, died Sept. 3. Porter started out his career in his family’s business, which included warehousing, moving and storage, and food distribution. But his love of music led him to bring top-flight entertainers, some of them black, to the state to perform. In 1961, Porter, protesting Little Rock’s Robinson Center Music Hall’s segregation policy, was arrested during a Ray Charles concert for sitting among black audience members. The center dropped its segregation policy by the time Louis Armstrong performed there in 1966. Porter was inducted into the Arkansas Entertainers Hall of Fame in 2005 and the Arkansas Jazz Heritage Foundation Hall of Fame in 2006.

Joe Davis “J.D.” McClard, 91, who led famed McClard’s Bar-B-Q Restaurant in Hot Springs until his retirement in 2005, died Sept. 22. The restaurant’s barbecue and barbecue sauce gained even greater national attention with the election of native son Bill Clinton, a fan of the spot, to the presidency in 1992.

Donald L. Holbert, 75, chairman and CEO of Central Flying Service at Little Rock and a member of the Arkansas Aviation Hall of Fame, died Sept. 27. Central Flying Service was founded in 1939 by Claud Holbert and Edward Garbacz. Don and Dick Holbert took control of the business in 1976 after their father retired. Don Holbert served in the U.S. Army, rising to the rank of captain. He was platoon leader and a helicopter gunship pilot in Vietnam, earning the Distinguished Flying Cross with “V” device for Valor, the Bronze Star, 32 Air Medals and the Vietnam Cross of Gallantry. After his service, Holbert returned to Central Flying Service, eventually becoming the company’s vice president of operations, president and, in 1981, chairman of the board. He was a founding member of the board of the Arkansas Aviation Historical Society and was inducted into the Arkansas Aviation Hall of Fame in 2006.


Circuit Judge L.T. Simes II, 65, the first black man to be elected as a circuit judge in Phillips County, died Oct. 10. He was first elected to the position of circuit judge for the 1st Judicial District in 1996. Simes served from Jan. 1, 1997, to Nov. 9, 2009, and again from Jan. 1, 2011, until his death. He also co-owned the Delta Force III Radio Network, consisting of KCLT 104.9 of Helena-West Helena; KAKJ 105.3 of Marianna/Forrest City; and WNEV 98.7 of Friars Point/Clarksdale, Mississippi.

David “Dave” Michael Clark of Little Rock and Destin, Florida, founder of Air Traffic Service Corp., an air cargo company, and former owner of Iron Horse Farm of Perryville, a breeder and trainer of thoroughbreds, died Oct. 18 at 74. Clark bought and expanded H.E. “Tex” Sutton Forwarding, an equine air transportation company, and created the Clark Family Foundation, dedicated to supporting children’s health and well-being. The David Clark Heart Center at Arkansas Children’s Hospital is named for him. Clark also served as president of the Arkansas Thoroughbred Breeders’ & Horsemen’s Association.

Darrell Brown, 67, a Little Rock lawyer who was the first African-American football player at the University of Arkansas, died Oct. 31. Brown, raised in Horatio, joined the team as a walk-on in 1965. An injury sidelined him and he didn’t play after his freshman season. Brown received his law degree in 1972 and soon after graduation was appointed U.S. magistrate in the Panama Canal Zone. Brown later served as an assistant attorney general, special prosecutor and special judge in Pulaski County. In 2011, he was honored as part of the Razorbacks Trailblazers series.


Frank Lyon Jr., 74, who served in leadership roles at many companies, including the Coca-Cola Bottling Co. of Arkansas, died Nov. 8 at his Little Rock home. Lyon led several companies, including the Frank Lyon Co., Wingmead Inc., Arkansas Irrigation Co. and U.S. Bank. A beneficiary of the Lyon family’s generosity was Arkansas College at Batesville, which changed its name to Lyon College in 1995.

Parker Westbrook of Little Rock, 89, famed Arkansas preservationist and the founding president of the Historic Preservation Alliance of Arkansas, died Nov. 19. Westbrook, originally from Nashville, was inducted into the state Department of Parks & Tourism’s Hall of Fame in 2007 for his work in promoting heritage tourism in Arkansas. The Historic Preservation Alliance’s annual lifetime achievement award is designated the Parker Westbrook Award.

Fred Poe, 81, founder of Poe Travel of Little Rock, Arkansas’ best-known travel agency, died Nov. 27 in Vancouver, British Columbia. Poe, a descendant of pioneer settlers in Saline County, founded Poe Travel in 1961. In September 1975, Poe Travel was the first U.S. travel agency to arrange tourist travel to China after President Richard Nixon’s historic 1972 visit to the communist country and the beginning of normalization of the relationship between the two nations.


Joe Mosby, 85, of Conway, a journalist best known as the longtime outdoor editor for the Arkansas Gazette, died Dec. 6. Mosby started his newspaper career in 1952 with the Log Cabin Democrat in Conway and worked at the Gazette from 1969 until it closed in 1991. He went on to write for the Arkansas Game & Fish Commission. Mosby was an inductee into the Arkansas Outdoor Hall of Fame and the Arkansas Sportswriters & Sportscasters Hall of Fame.