J.W. Benafield, Highway Commissioner, Mayor of 2 Cities, Dies at 93


J.W. "Buddy" Benafield, a businessman, a former mayor of two Arkansas cities and former state highway commissioner who was active in Democratic politics, has died. He was 93.

The Arkansas Times reported that Benafield died early Monday. One of Benafield's daughters, Dawne Benafield Vandiver, confirmed her father's death in a public post on Facebook. 

"With a very heavy heart my family announces the death of the one and only Buddy," the post said. "We knew him as Dad, Papa and 'the man that did it his way.' Details to follow."

According to his obituary, the family plans a private graveside service followed by a celebration of his life from 4-7 p.m. Friday at The Country Club of Little Rock. A brief tribute will begin at 5:30 p.m.

During a long life in politics and business, the Coy native served as mayor of two cities — England (Lonoke County) from 1967 to 1974, and Little Rock from 1983 to 1984. He also served three governors — Dale Bumpers, Frank White and Jim Guy Tucker.

It was during Tucker's administration that Benafield was appointed to the powerful state Highway Commission. Tucker appointed him on June 19, 1993, to fill out the term of Rodney Slater, who was appointed federal highway administrator by then-President Bill Clinton.

Tucker reappointed Benafield to a full 10-year term on the commission after Slater's original term expired in January 1995.

Benafield and Tucker also teamed up in business, including a partnership in the redevelopment of the 12-story Centre Place Building in downtown Little Rock.

"Buddy was a tractor driver, aircraft pilot, duck hunter, golfer, builder and focused thinker," Tucker said, according to his obituary. "He was proud of his service to country, state, friends and family. What's more, Buddy was like an exquisite surgeon when analyzing challenges and opportunities for governors, members of Congress, city and county officials, future presidents, and such political luminaries as the late U.S. Senator Ted Kennedy. For that, and so much more, he will always remain 'my Buddy.'"