Arkansas Business Year in Review: Notable Deaths in 2022

Arkansas Business Year in Review: Notable Deaths in 2022
(Arkansas Business)


Harold Gwatney, founder of Harold Gwatney Chevrolet in Jacksonville, now Gwatney Automotive, died Jan. 7. He was 92. Gwatney, who served as adjutant general of the Arkansas National Guard, was instrumental in bringing the National Guard Professional Education & Training Center to Camp Robinson and aligning the 39th Brigade Infantry with the 101st Airborne in joint readiness training.

Harold Gwatney

Bill Shirron of Benton, an educator who served as director of the Arkansas Teacher Retirement System from 1988 to 2002, died Jan. 21. He was 85. During his tenure, he pioneered the “28 and out” provision and T-DROP benefit for Arkansas educators.

Vann Smith, 71, who retired in 2020 after serving 32 years as a judge for the 6th Judicial Circuit, died Jan. 22. Smith’s obituary noted that he viewed all of his cases as important, but one of them, Pfeifer vs. City of Little Rock, resulted in the building of the Clinton Presidential Center & Park, where the Clinton Presidential Library is located.

Kearney Dietz of Little Rock, who retired in 2012 after spending 23 years as president of Arkansas’ Independent Colleges & Universities, died Jan. 24. He was 89. Dietz had previously served as president of the Mid-South Chapter of the Public Relations Society of America and later was the charter president of the Arkansas Chapter of the PRSA. The Arkansas Chapter awarded Dietz its Lifetime Achievement Award in 2019.

Lee Ronnel, 85, founder of Metal Recycling Corp. of Little Rock and philanthropist, died Jan. 29. Ronnel gave both time and money to good causes, including most notably the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra and the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences. Ronnel’s gift to the ASO, the largest individual gift in its history, led the orchestra in December to name its lifelong music engagement and education programs the E. Lee Ronnel Music Academy.


Helen Selig, a former Hot Springs mayor, died Feb. 18. She was 84. Selig, who was also the first female chairman of the Greater Hot Springs Chamber of Commerce board of directors, was described by Visit Hot Springs CEO Steve Arrison as “a great force in our community.” During her tenure, the Hot Springs Convention Center was built and the Arkansas School for Mathematics, Sciences & the Arts was opened.


James Dietz of North Little Rock, a former state representative, died March 3 at 79. Dietz started his real estate career at Rector Phillips Morse, leaving to launch a real estate company, the Brothers Dietz, with his brother, Kearney, who died Jan. 24. James Dietz later returned to RPM as a commercial broker and was responsible for projects including McCain Business Park, Sycamore Business Park and Northwood Commercial Park. He also served as president and CEO of the North Little Rock Chamber of Commerce.

Brent Renaud, 50, of Little Rock and New York, a Peabody Award-winning documentary filmmaker, died March 13. Renaud, who was covering the Russian war on Ukraine for Time and MSNBC, was the first known American casualty of that war. In a personal letter to the Renaud family, Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy wrote: “A talented and brave journalist, Brent lost his life while documenting human tragedy, devastation and suffering of the millions of Ukrainians.”

Brent Renaud

Sterling Cockrill, 96, of Little Rock, scion of a pioneering Arkansas family and a former state representative and speaker of the Arkansas House of Representatives, died March 23. Cockrill also served as director of Little Rock Unlimited Progress and the Metrocentre Improvement District.

Kaneaster Hodges Jr. of Newport, a former U.S. senator, died March 23. He was 83. In 1977, Gov. David Pryor appointed Hodges as senator to serve the remaining term of Sen. John L. McClellan, who had died. Hodges served 13 months, replaced by Pryor, who ran for Senate in 1978 and won.

John F. Stroud Jr., 90, of Texarkana, a retired chief judge of the Arkansas Court of Appeals, died March 27. He served on the Arkansas Court of Appeals from 1996 to 2000, acting as the court’s chief jurist from 2001 to 2004.


Don Munro, founder of Munro & Co. Inc. of Hot Springs, once one of the largest privately held shoe manufacturers in the United States, died April 27. He was 94. Munro was president of the American Apparel & Footwear Association in 2003 and was inducted into the Arkansas Business Hall of Fame in 2005. A noted philanthropist, in 1992 he became the first recipient of the Pew Foundation’s American Philanthropy Award. He served 10 years on the Arkansas Community Foundation board.

Don Munro


Carol “Coach” Henry of England, a former state representative who co-wrote the act that allows for early voting in Arkansas, died May 3. He was 92. Henry, an educator who was the first principal at the newly built Lakewood Junior High in North Little Rock, also served on the Pulaski County Quorum Court for 18 years.

M. Olin Cook of Russellville, a former director of the Arkansas Department of Higher Education and former state representative, died May 4. He was 89.

Wallace Fowler, 87, the Jonesboro businessman who built and sold multiple banks and led robust KFC and Taco Bell franchises, died May 4. Fowler’s involvement in banking put him in the middle of some of the state’s biggest transactions. His last bank deal was the biggest: the $320 million sale of Liberty Bancshares Inc. to Home Bancshares Inc. of Conway in 2013. Fowler, a 2011 inductee into the Arkansas Business Hall of Fame, was once described by his longtime friend, former Gov. Mike Beebe, as “an example of what the American dream is all about.” Fowler’s wife, Jama, who was involved in his businesses and philanthropy, died two weeks earlier at 85.

Mark Middleton, the central Arkansas business leader who helped his family turn Middleton Heat & Air into one of the largest HVAC companies in the state, died May 7. He was 59. Middleton was also managing partner of the investment firm MidCorp Capital of Bryant and had served as finance director for Bill Clinton’s presidential campaign and later special assistant to Clinton under chief of staff Thomas F. “Mack” McLarty.

Mark Middleton

Thomas L. “Tom” Goodgame, 92, of Little Rock, who managed television stations in Little Rock, Tulsa, Pittsburgh and Boston, died May 10. In 1986, he moved to New York City, where he was named president of Westinghouse Television Broadcasting, Group W. On retiring, he returned to Little Rock, where he served on the board of the University of Arkansas at Little Rock Foundation and was honored as a Distinguished Alumnus.

Bobby “Bob” Scott of Little Rock, a former aide to Arkansas Gov. Winthrop Rockefeller, died May 15. He was 88. Scott also served as the chairman of the Pulaski County Republican Committee and general counsel to the Arkansas Republican Party.

Larry Lacewell, a longtime football coach and athletic director at Arkansas State University of Jonesboro, died May 17 at 85. Lacewell left A State in 1990 to become defensive coordinator at the University of Tennessee and later went on to become scouting director for the Dallas Cowboys. He was inducted into the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame in 1996.

Bob Robbins, a legendary DJ who made country Arkansas’ music radio format at KSSN in the 1980s and ruled the ratings as Nashville’s new stars like George Strait and Garth Brooks ruled the charts, died May 21 at age 78. After 34 years at KSSN, the state’s country radio bastion for decades, he moved in 2013 to play country hits for KMJX-FM 105.1, known as the Wolf. His off-the-air name was Bob Spears.

Bob Robbins

Daniel R. Grant of Arkadelphia, president emeritus of Ouachita Baptist University, died May 25. He was 99. Grant, whose father had also served as president of what became OBU, became its 12th president in 1970, serving in that role for 18 years.

Jay T. Finch, 75, of Cave Springs, a retired Benton County circuit judge, died May 30. Finch, who retired in 2011 after serving 14 years as circuit judge, was the first judge for Benton County’s drug court program.


Robert C. Nolan of El Dorado, managing partner of Munoco Co., a natural resources company, and chairman of the board of Deltic Timber Corp. until its merger with Potlatch Corp., died June 5. He was 80. Nolan had also served as president and chairman of Murphy Land & Timber and of Loutre Land & Timber Co.

Helen Lanier Porter, 81, a Little Rock philanthropist noted for her gifts to the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, died June 7. She was married for 54 years to James Trester Dyke, the longtime head of building material supplier Dyke Industries Inc. of Little Rock. Dyke died in 2021. The Helen L. Porter and James T. Dyke Brain Imaging Research Center at UAMS is named after the couple.

Jeane Hamilton, 96, of Little Rock, a driving force in the opening and improvement of the Arkansas Arts Center, now the Arkansas Museum of Fine Arts, died June 15. Hamilton received the Arkansas Arts Council’s Lifetime Achievement Governor’s Arts Award in 2007.

Billy Dean Porter, 89, of Clarksville, owner of Clarksville Wood Products Co. until its sale in 1999 and a former state representative and former Clarksville mayor, died June 20. His proudest achievement during his legislative career, his obituary said, was the passage of an appropriations bill that provided funding for a new headquarters in Clarksville for Arkansas State Police Troop J.


Jimmie Lou Fisher, a pioneering female politician and the longest-serving state treasurer in Arkansas history, died July 12. She was 80. Fisher began her career in politics when she was elected Greene County treasurer in 1970. In 1979, she was appointed state auditor by Gov. Bill Clinton to replace Jimmie “Red” Jones, who went on to serve as adjutant general of the Arkansas National Guard. In 1980, Fisher won election as Arkansas state treasurer, remaining in the office for 22 years. In 2002, she ran against Gov. Mike Huckabee but lost with 47% of the vote.

Cameron Smith, the founder and CEO who established Cameron Smith & Associates of Rogers as a top provider of executive talent nationwide, died July 18. He was 71. Smith, who moved to Arkansas from California in 1994 to start his company, won Executive of the Year at the 2015 Arkansas Business of the Year Awards. In 2017, Forbes named CSA one of America’s Best Executive Search Firms.

Cameron Smith

Bobby Hopper of Springdale, Arkansas’ longest-serving highway commissioner, died July 29. He was 89. Appointed by Gov. Bill Clinton in 1983, Hopper served on the Arkansas Highway Commission until 1999. The Bobby Hopper Tunnel on Interstate 49 is named for him. “Bobby Hopper was the influence that made northwest Arkansas open to the rest of the country when he came up with Interstate 540,” Dick Trammel, a former highway commissioner, told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.


Burton L. Elliott, 91, of Fayetteville, director of the Arkansas Department of Education under Gov. Bill Clinton, died Aug. 3. He went on to work with the Arkansas Association of Educational Administrators and as the director of the Northwest Arkansas Educational Cooperative, retiring in 2006.

Boyce “Butch” Wilkins of Bono, a former state representative who created a state Alzheimer’s task force, died Aug. 6. He was 75. Wilkins’ wife, Patsy, suffered from Alzheimer’s and his experience with the disease led him to advocate on behalf of Alzheimer’s patients and their families. Patsy died in 2013.

Sam Epstein Angel, 83, of Lake Village, a third-generation cotton ginner and cotton farmer, died Aug. 15. Angel, president of Epstein Land Co. and Epstein Gin Co., was the presidentially appointed civilian member of the Mississippi River Commission and a commissioner of the Chicot County Rural Development Authority and the Southeast Arkansas Levee District and a former president of the Southern Cotton Ginners Association.

John E. Jennings of Rogers, who served 16 years on the Arkansas Court of Appeals, died Aug. 25. He was 75.

Samuel W. Tatom Jr., 75, of Benton, director of the Arkansas Department of Public Safety under Gov. Bill Clinton, died Aug. 28. Tatom also worked with the Arkansas Sheriffs’ Association and Arkansas Crime Commission.


William “Bill” Aubert Martin, 90, of North Little Rock, a retired Air Force lawyer who served as executive director of the Arkansas Bar Association for 13 years, died Sept. 3.

Julia Hughes Jones, the first woman elected to a statewide constitutional office in Arkansas without first having been appointed to one, died Sept. 14 in St. Augustine, Florida. She was 83. Jones, a Democrat, was elected state auditor in 1980. In 1992, she challenged Dale Bumpers in the U.S. Senate race, but lost. Jones became a Republican in 1993 and ran for secretary of state in 1994, losing to Sharon Priest. She retired in Florida in 1995.

Richard Dowell “Rick” Parker, 73, co-owner of Parker Automotive Group in Little Rock, one of the state’s largest private companies, died Sept. 16. Parker was a philanthropist who received the Humanitarian Award from the Resource Center of Aging. He supported Easter Seals, the Union Rescue Mission and Arkansas Children’s Hospital.

Mary Ann Greenwood, who founded the wealth management firm that became Greenwood Gearhart Inc. of Fayetteville, died Sept. 17 at the age of 82. “Mary Ann was a real pioneer for our industry,” said Lisa A. Brown, the president of Greenwood Gearhart. Greenwood was an adviser on numerous boards and committees at the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville, with Chancellor Charles Robinson calling her “delightful supporter, champion and advocate” of the school.

Mary Ann Greenwood


Tommy Swaim, 77, mayor of Jacksonville from 1987-2009, died Oct. 12. Swaim oversaw the cleanup of the Vertac chemical plant site, one of the nation’s worst hazardous waste sites. Gary Fletcher, who became mayor of the city after Swaim’s retirement, told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette that Swaim led Jacksonville through “the most difficult times in our city, probably in history.”

Lawrence A. Davis Jr. of Pine Bluff, the chancellor emeritus of the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff, died Oct. 15. He was 85. Davis was the son of L.A. “Prexy” Davis Sr., president of AM&N College from 1943 until 1972, when the college joined the University of Arkansas System and became UAPB. Lawrence Davis became chancellor of UAPB in 1991, retiring in 2012.

Robert Bartlett “Bart” Roach Jr., 86, chairman and president of Roach Paper Co. until its sale in 1980 and a Little Rock civic leader, died Oct. 20. Roach was a trustee of the George W. Donaghey Foundation for more than 40 years, including as president of the foundation. He was a member of the Little Rock Boys Club board from 1966 until 1998, serving as president in 1985 and 1986, and was a member of the board of Arkansas Children’s Hospital for 26 years.


Terry Yamauchi, a pediatrician and director of the Arkansas Department of Human Services under Gov. Bill Clinton, died Nov. 5. He was 81. Yamauchi worked more than 40 years at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, including as associate dean, interim chair of pediatrics and professor and chief of pediatric infectious diseases and clinical pharmacology.

Dotson Collins, 94, of Huntsville, former Arkansas labor commissioner, died Nov. 11. Collins was USDA state executive director under President Ronald Reagan, President George H.W. Bush and President George W. Bush.

James “Jim” Charles Luker, 80, of Wynne, a former mayor of Wynne and former state representative and state senator, died Nov. 16.

Milam Michael “Mike” Kinard of Magnolia, a former prosecuting attorney for the 13th Judicial District and former state senator, died Nov. 19. He was 83. Kinard also served on the Arkansas Court of Appeals and as Gov. Mike Beebe’s legislative liaison.


Kenneth Lloyd “Ken” Coon, 87 of Hot Springs, who worked to build the Republican Party in Arkansas when the state was still largely a one-party state, that party being the Democratic Party, died Dec. 8. Coon, a psychologist and counselor, was state chairman of the Republican Party from 1988 to 1990.