AMP Plus People Politics

E.C. ‘Bubba’ Benton, former state rep, showed kindness even to a cub reporter

‘The happiest of all legislators’

October 31, 2016

I didn’t know E.C. “Bubba” Benton all that well.

Our paths crossed a handful of times. Through much of the 1960s he and my grandfather, Alton Owens, were partners in an insurance company in Little Rock. In my first months as a cub reporter and obituary writer in 2008, he met me one afternoon on the sidewalk outside the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette headquarters in downtown Little Rock.

The former state representative wanted to wish me well with my new career in person. Knowing my love of sports and politics, he handed me a copy of Horns, Hogs & Nixon Coming: Texas vs. Arkansas in Dixie’s Last Stand. Mr. Benton smiled the whole time — not something forced, like a politician’s caricature of good will, but the real, honest-to-goodness thing. When longtime Arkansas legislative insider Bill “Scoop” Lancaster wrote in his recent book, Inside the Arkansas Legislature, that Mr. Benton “might have been the ‘happiest’ of all legislators, always laughing, always with a wonderful, engaging smile,” he wasn’t exaggerating.

bubba-benton-arkansas-gazette-fullWhile I didn’t know Benton well, I was around him enough to realize something important: What those who knew him better said about him wasn’t malarkey. This was a nice man who on the whole gave far more than he ever asked for in return.  It was easy to see why my grandfather felt their insurance company owed much of its success to Benton’s friendliness and the vast personal network he built on his personality.

Why, Mr. Benton himself reckoned to the Arkansas Gazette in a 1976 interview, he knew “half of the people of Little Rock” around the same time he won his first state representative campaign for District 5, Position 2.

Earnest Clark “Bubba” Benton passed away at the age of 92 last Thursday. His obituary lays out some of the nuts and bolts: surviving family members, a nod to his time as a World War II bomber flying with the “Red Raiders” in the Pacific Theater, and notice of the memorial service at 1 p.m. October 31 at Westover Hills Presbyterian Church in Little Rock.

It doesn’t mention that in seven years in state government, Mr. Benton “had his Fordyce roots to ground him and ensure common sense when others in the anemic Pulaski County delegation were going off half-cocked and unable to work their way into leadership positions,” as Mr. Lancaster wrote in his book. Or that he “knew banking and finance, and when he wasn’t legislating, he was fighting for the oft-forgotten kids at the blind-and-deaf school who needed all the help they could get when it came to slicing up the tasty taxpayer pie.”

Rest in peace, Bubba.

But may the traits you embodied, both in and out of the state capitol, live on.

Visitation will be at noon October 31, 2016, followed by a memorial service at 1 p.m. at Westover Hills Presbyterian Church in Little Rock. Mr. Benton will be buried with military recognition at Oakland Cemetery in Fordyce.

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