Many of the past years’ honorees have gone on to big things, some have faced hardship, a very few have had trouble with the law, certainly all have experienced change good and bad. But for sheer shock, the murder of Bill Gwatney surely stands alone. He was 34 when Arkansas Business profiled him in 1994. He was 48 when he was killed in 2008.
The description of him that we used at the time of his death still stands: a bright star in business and politics in Arkansas.
William A. “Bill” Gwatney, Arkansas Democratic Party chairman, former state senator and CEO of Gwatney Chevrolet in Jacksonville, died Aug. 13, 2008, after a gunman shot him at state Democratic Party headquarters in downtown Little Rock.
In 1995, Gwatney sponsored the Patient Protection Act, known as “any willing provider,” which the health insurance industry fought for a decade. His political persona earned him the nickname “Gwatzilla,” which was borrowed from his car dealerships’ advertising.
The man who shot Gwatney himself died in a shootout with law enforcement officers a few hours after Gwatney’s slaying. Police found no motive.
“The assailant — Gwatney would have been the very kind of person who would have helped him, if he had asked for help,” Gwatney’s friend Gov. Mike Beebe said after the shooting. “That’s the kind of guy Gwatney was.”