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Arkansas Year In Review: Notable Deaths in 2019

13 min read
Business Icons: Bob Shell
After a few false starts, Bob Shell found his calling in the construction industry. ( Jason Burt)
A brilliant sportswriter, a beloved PR executive, a founder of one of Arkansas’ pre-eminent architecture firms, a giant in the field of construction, the creator of “The Fishin’ Hole,” a civil rights icon and a pioneering scientist were just a few of the notable Arkansans who died in 2019.


Jim Bailey

Jim Bailey, who delighted Razorback fans, baseball addicts and boxing buffs for nearly six decades as one of Arkansas’ most knowledgeable and polished sportswriters, died Jan. 2. He was 86. The National Sportscasters & Sportswriters Association named him Arkansas’ sportswriter of the year 16 times. The press box at Dickey-Stephens Park in North Little Rock, home of the Travelers, was named for Bailey and his sportscasting colleague, Jim Elder. Bailey was inducted into the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame in 2003.

Richard “Dick” Barclay, a longtime member of the Arkansas House of Representatives who later worked on Gov. Mike Huckabee’s staff, died Jan. 4. He was 81. Barclay, a Rogers accountant, ran for Congress in 1992, when John Paul Hammerschmidt retired, losing in the Republican primary to Tim Hutchinson. Barclay also served as the state’s chief fiscal officer and director of the state Finance & Administration Department. “He was a person who got things done,” Raymond Burns, president and CEO of the Rogers-Lowell Area Chamber of Commerce, told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. “It didn’t matter what political party you were with. He was the personification of bipartisan.”

Dr. Howard Ashley Ted Bailey Jr., a physician who with his late wife, Virginia, founded the Bailey Corp., a real estate development and management company, died Jan. 21 at 94. He also was a professor of otolaryngology at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences and head of the Division of Otolaryngology for 10 years. Bailey, a talented tennis player, was the chairman of the U.S. Tennis Association’s Olympic committee when tennis became an Olympic sport and was inducted into both the Arkansas Tennis Hall of Fame and the Southern Tennis Hall of Fame.

Lem Tull

Lemuel Henry “Lem” Tull, a co-founder of Crafton Tull, an engineering, architecture and design firm, died Jan. 31 in Rogers. He was 85. In 1963, Tull, working as an engineer for the Arkansas Highway Department, joined with his friend and fellow engineer, Bob Crafton, to launch Crafton Tull, a civil engineering company, in Rogers. During his 30 years with the company, it grew to more than 90 employees and came to include architectural services.


Tom Blackmon Sr., an auctioneer noted in Arkansas and across the country, died Feb. 11 at the age of 78. In 1969, Blackmon took over Blackmon Auctions, founded by his father in 1938, growing it into an internationally renowned company with headquarters in Little Rock and auction yards in Lonoke and Muskogee, Oklahoma. Blackmon, who was inducted into the Arkansas Auctioneers Hall of Fame in 1988, was known for singing “Waltz Across Texas” between auctions.

Eugene Pfeifer Levy, 82, a prominent Little Rock architect, died Feb. 14. Levy had served as president, CEO and chairman of Cromwell Architects Engineers, retiring in 2018. Levy partnered with Charley Penix, Cromwell’s CEO, on the design of the Jackson T. Stephens Spine & Neurosciences Institute at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences.

Joyce Wroten, who served on the staff of Gov. Bill Clinton and later became chief lobbyist for the University of Arkansas System, serving in that role for 30 years, died Feb. 16. She was 78. Wroten formed a coalition of the UA System and the Arkansas State University System to invest money from the state’s share of a multibillion-dollar tobacco settlement into health care, an initiative that included the establishment of the Boozman College of Public Health at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences.

George Jernigan Jr., a former Arkansas secretary of state and former chairman of the Arkansas Democratic Party, died Feb. 24 at the age of 79. Jernigan, a lawyer who had been general counsel for Ward Industries in Conway and the Arkansas Health Care Association, loved politics and was the second chairman of the Political Animals Club.


Matt DeCample

Matt DeCample, the former spokesman for Gov. Mike Beebe who applied his reporter’s eye, comic’s wit and writer’s openness in a three-year struggle against an extremely rare and aggressive liver cancer, died March 3. He was 44. As a TV reporter, government spokesman and PR executive, DeCample built a reputation for helpfulness and mentoring. DeCample had “the rare combination of an incredibly quick mind and a depth of knowledge that was truly astounding,” Beebe said in a statement. “He was a diplomat (with the press corps and everyone else), he was kind to each and every one, extremely witty, and had more friends than anyone I know.”

Dan Phillips, 90, who spent 40 years working at the department store M.M. Cohn, founded in 1874 by his great-grandfather Mark M. Cohn, died March 8. Phillips, who became president in 1969, oversaw the growth of M.M. Cohn, considered the Neiman Marcus of Arkansas, into 12 locations, and oversaw its sale to an out-of-state chain in 1989.

AB 0122 Melva Harmon
Attorney Melva Harmon of Little Rock says almost all employers have instituted sexual harassment policies and procedures. ( Karen E. Segrave)

Jeff Lyle, the Little Rock TV engineer who operated SSN Media Gateway LLC, died March 9 at the age of 56. He was general manager of the firm, a broadcast and master control service outsourcer for TV stations around the country. “Jeff was warm, kind and a technically brilliant TV engineer,” said Matthew Davidge, the British-born New York investor who bought Media Gateway several years ago.


David M. “Mac” Glover, a judge on the Arkansas Court of Appeals, died March 23. He was 74. Before winning his first race for the Appeals Court in 2004, Glover practiced law in his hometown of Malvern for 34 years. He was re-elected to the Court of Appeals in 2012. Glover, who came from a family of lawyers, also served as a Hot Spring County district judge, an assistant state attorney general, a Malvern city attorney and a deputy prosecuting attorney in the 7th Judicial District.

Zoe Oakleaf, who founded Opinion Research Associates Inc., a well-known marketing research company in Little Rock, with her husband, Ernie, died March 23. She was 70. Opinion Research is probably best known for its political polls, and its clients included KTHV, the Arkansas Educational Television Network and the Arkansas News Bureau.


Alex Streett, a longtime Russellville lawyer who as a prosecutor challenged election fraud in Arkansas, died April 25. He was 80. The line of Streett lawyers in the state goes back for more than 200 years and includes Alex Streett’s great-grandfather, grandfather, father, uncle, brother, two sons, a daughter, a niece and several cousins, his obituary noted. As a young prosecutor, Streett fought the political machine of Conway County Sheriff Marlin Hawkins, whose autobiography is titled “How I Stole Elections.”

Jeff Lyle
Jeff Lyle of Media Gateway in Little Rock is recovering from a stroke, owner Matthew Davidge said. ( Karen E. Segrave)

Tommy Ray Polk, founding partner of Polk Stanley Wilcox Architects of Little Rock and mentor to generations of Arkansas architects, died April 28. He was 79. Polk left his mark on skylines in Little Rock and Memphis, worked on iconic projects in New York City, and shaped students’ educational experiences through buildings designed for the University of Arkansas and Arkansas school districts and library systems. In Little Rock, his designs include the Adolphine Fletcher Terry Library, the Historic Arkansas Museum and the U.S. Bankruptcy Courthouse addition.


Maggie Hinson, beloved owner of downtown Little Rock’s beloved Midtown Billiards, died April 30 at 72. “She was one of the movers and the shakers about trying to make sure we had entertainment in Little Rock, like late night clubs and stuff like modern cities do,” Norman Jones, the owner of Discovery Night Club, told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.


Dan O’Byrne, former CEO of the Little Rock Convention & Visitors Bureau, died May 3. He was 60. O’Byrne, a New Jersey native, came to the LRCVB in 2003 as chief marketing officer and became chief executive officer in 2005. He left the city in 2010 to become CEO of Visit Jacksonville in Florida and then served as executive director of the Emerald Coast Convention & Visitors Bureau.

Robert A. “Bob” Peiser, former chairman of USA Truck Inc. of Van Buren, died May 22 at the age of 70. Peiser joined the company’s board in February 2012 and was named chairman in November, replacing Terry Elliott. USA Truck had just posted a record $6.1 million third-quarter loss, and Peiser oversaw the hiring of CEO John Simone, who began the company’s turnaround before dying of lung cancer in 2016.


Linda Collins

Linda Collins, 57, a former state senator, was found dead at her Pocahontas home June 4. Collins was a member of the Arkansas House from 2011 to 2013. Elected as a Democrat, she switched parties in 2011. In 2014, she ran successfully for the state Senate and served one term, which expired in January. Rebecca O’Donnell of Pocahontas, a friend and former campaign aide, has been charged with capital murder in Collins’ slaying. O’Donnell has pleaded innocent.

Scott Crook, outdoorsman and founder and co-owner of outdoor supply business Pack Rat Outdoor Center in Fayetteville, died June 10. He was 72. Pack Rat, started in 1973, has a national reputation as a specialty outdoor retailer.

Doug Wood, a Sherwood lawyer who served in the Arkansas House of Representatives for 20 years, died June 10 at the age of 76. He was proudest of sponsoring legislation creating the first 24-hour capability for telephone communications for the hearing impaired and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial on the state Capitol grounds.


Tommy Ray Polk
<p>Tommy Ray Polk (file)</p> ( Andrew Kilgore)

Melva Harmon, a longtime defender of Arkansas workers and unions known to her Little Rock fans as “the people’s lawyer,” died July 3 at age 71. Harmon, a native Texan, blazed a trail in negotiations and the courtroom, where she faced such entrenched bias that a judge once mused aloud that perhaps she was a subpar lawyer because she “was only a woman.” Representing Teamsters Local 878, other unions and individual workers in every type of employment dispute, Harmon became a fellow of the College of Labor & Employment Lawyers. Harmon applied her experience in later years as a mediator and arbitrator.


Dr. Edith Irby Jones

Dr. Edith Irby Jones, the first black medical student to enroll at the University of Arkansas’ medical school, died July 15. She was 91. Jones’ life was a series of “firsts.” Jones, whose father was a sharecropper and mother a maid, was believed to have been the first black student enrolled in any all-white medical school in the South. After graduating in 1952, she practiced medicine in Hot Springs, moving to Houston in 1959, becoming the first black woman resident at Baylor College of Medicine Affiliated Hospitals. Jones later opened a medical practice in Houston and was “among several other black physicians who founded Mercy Hospital and one of twelve doctors who owned and developed Park Plaza Hospital,” according to the Central Arkansas Library System Encyclopedia of Arkansas. Jones was the first female president of the National Medical Association and the only female founding member of the Association of Black Cardiologists.

Wesley Pruden, who got ink in his blood as a teenage staffer at the Arkansas Gazette and went on to make the “Moonie”-owned Washington Times a favorite of conservatives, died July 17 in Washington. Pruden, 83, was a former editor in chief of the Times and author of its combative twice-a-week column “Pruden on Politics.” Pruden’s father was the Rev. Wesley Pruden Sr., a Southern Baptist pastor who emerged as a pro-segregation leader after nine students integrated Little Rock Central High School in 1957.


Mary Good
<p>Mary Good</p> ( Nate Disarro)

Bob Shell, the former chairman of the Little Rock construction company that bears his name, died Aug. 6. He was 88. Shell, one of the most familiar names in Arkansas business, retired as chairman of Baldwin & Shell Construction in 2017. He had been a fixture at the firm, which he joined at 19 when it was the Baldwin Co., for nearly 70 years. The company’s name was changed when Shell became president and CEO upon the death of Werner Knoop in 1983. By the time Shell relinquished the CEO position in 2014, Baldwin & Shell was frequently named as one of the 400 largest general contractors in the country. One of five charter members of the Arkansas Construction Hall of Fame, Shell was named Arkansas Business Executive of the Year in 1990 and was featured by Arkansas Business as one of 10 “Business Icons” in the state in 2016.


Michelle Hastings, owner and president of Trivia Marketing of Little Rock, died Aug. 10. She was 57. Hastings started her career in sales at Complete Computing, buying T-Shirt Trivia, a T-shirt screen printing business, in 1992. The company soon expanded into promotional products and went on to become a full-service marketing company, changing its name to Trivia Marketing.

Charles O’Donnell, 85, co-founder of the nationally renowned Dickson Street Bookshop, died Aug. 13. Four sentences from his elegantly written obituary stick out: “He fought down demons, and built a real legacy,” “He always took advantage of second chances,” and “His last day of work was Monday. He died on Tuesday morning.”

Cheryl Maples, who championed gay rights in Arkansas, died Aug. 22 at the age of 69. Maples, a Heber Springs lawyer, challenged the state’s prohibition against same-sex marriage, filing suit and ultimately convincing a Pulaski County Circuit Court judge to declare the measure unconstitutional. The Arkansas Supreme Court then blocked the issuance of marriage licenses to same-sex couples, but the issue was made moot in 2015 when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the Constitution guarantees the right of same-sex couples to wed.


Clifton Loyd Ganus Jr., chancellor emeritus of Harding University, died Sept. 9. He was 97. Ganus served as president of Harding from 1965-87. “He had an incredible impact on the Harding community and its history,” Harding President Bruce McLarty told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. “This entire community deeply loved this man.” Ganus became the first chancellor of the university in 1987 and was named chancellor emeritus in 2013. Harding became a university during Ganus’ tenure, and he helped start Harding’s first study abroad program.

Don Pitts, 80, the chairman of United Holding Co. of Springdale, died Sept. 9. United Holding, a family-owned company, owns United Bank, which has assets of $201.3 million, and United Built Homes, which builds custom homes, often for first-time homebuyers.

Paul Edwin “Eddie” Powell, former North Little Rock mayor and vice chairman of the board of Central Arkansas Water, died Sept. 11. He was 78. Powell served as mayor from 1974 to 1979. He created the North Little Rock History Commission and played an important role in the formation of CAW, created in a merger of the Little Rock and North Little Rock water utilities.


Alonzo Warren Ashley, a physicist from Little Rock who was awarded the Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics & Engineering Mentoring in 2005 from the National Science Foundation, died Oct. 4. He was 83. Ashley went to work for Stanford University in 1968, where he pioneered a research program for minority students in STEM studies, now called the Science Undergraduate Laboratory Internship program.

John Walker

John Walker, 82, a Little Rock lawyer, state representative and civil rights legend, died Oct. 28. Walker was best known for his involvement in the long-running Little Rock School District desegregation case, but he handled many others involving civil rights violations, particularly in employment. In 1965, Walker started a law practice in Little Rock, focusing on civil rights, and in 1968, he opened one of the first three racially integrated law firms in the South, first known as Walker & Chachkin. At his death, he was a principal at the John W. Walker law firm in Little Rock.


Jerry McKinnis, creator of the longtime TV program “The Fishin’ Hole” and a pioneer of the outdoor fishing industry, died Nov. 3 at 82. On “The Fishin’ Hole,” McKinnis invited celebrities to go fishing with him, and viewers loved it. It was the second-oldest series behind “SportsCenter.” His production company produced shows like “The Walmart FLW Tour,” “The Bassmaster Classic” and the “Iditarod Sled Dog Race.” McKinnis was inducted into the International Game Fish Association Hall of Fame, the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame, the Arkansas Outdoor Hall of Fame, the National Fishing Hall of Fame, the Bass Fishing Hall of Fame and the Arkansas Entertainers Hall of Fame.

Jack Moseley, longtime editor of the Southwest Times Record in Fort Smith, died Nov. 15. He was 82. He was recalled for shooting the breeze in the newsroom with anybody, and pushing fair, accurate coverage, including aggressive investigative pieces and tough questions for local leaders. His staff piled up journalism awards, and employees said he tempered a traditional editor’s demanding gruffness with coaching and praise for jobs well done.

Arkansas Year In Review: Notable Deaths in 2019 129470

Mary Good, a pioneering scientist, distinguished educator, successful researcher in private business and high-ranking government official who served as undersecretary for technology in the U.S. Department of Commerce under President Bill Clinton, died Nov. 20. She was 88. The founding dean of the UA Donaghey College of Engineering & Information Technology at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, Good was named to the inaugural class of Arkansas Women’s Hall of Fame in 2015. In an Arkansas Business profile of her on that occasion, she explained her motivation: “I’ve never been afraid to do new things. In fact, I like to do new things.”


Joseph P. Fulton, distinguished plant pathologist at the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture, died Nov. 26. He was 102. Fulton had served as plant pathology department head at the UA, retiring in 1987.


Jerry Don Lamb, co-captain of the 1964 Arkansas Razorbacks National Championship football team and founder of Lamb & Associates Packaging, died Dec. 16. He was 78. Lamb was a member of the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame, the University of Arkansas Sports Hall of Honor, the Hogs’ 1960s All-Decade Team and the 2014 SEC Football Legends Class.

Gordon Morgan, 88, the first black professor hired by the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville, died Dec. 17. Morgan, a sociologist, was hired in 1969. A UA residence hall was recently named in his honor.

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