Senator Dale Bumpers Obituary


Dale L. Bumpers, former Governor and Senator from Arkansas, passed away on January 1st at his home in Little Rock, surrounded by his family.  He was born on August 12, 1925 in Charleston, Arkansas to W.R. and Lattie (Jones) Bumpers. He is survived by his wife of 66 years, Betty Flanagan Bumpers, his sons Brent Bumpers (Lea Ann), and Bill Bumpers (Heidi), his daughter Brooke Bumpers (Gordon Low), his grandchildren Braeden, Will and Linn Bumpers, Meg and Alex Bumpers, and Callan and Emily Low, as well as numerous cousins, nieces and nephews.  He was predeceased by his parents and by his brother, Carroll Bumpers, and his sister, Margaret Ware Kahliff. 

After graduating from Charleston High School in 1943, he enrolled at the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville for summer school, knowing that he would soon be drafted to serve in World War II.  He served in the Marine Corps and was in Hawaii, about to be shipped out to the Pacific Theater when the atomic bombs were dropped and World War II ended.  After discharge from the Marines as a staff sergeant, he returned to the University of Arkansas and, upon completion of his studies there, moved to Chicago and began law school at Northwestern University.  Both parents were killed by a drunk driver in a car accident during his second year of law school. Soon thereafter he married his high school sweetheart, Betty Flanagan. They returned together to Chicago while he completed law school. 

He and Betty returned to Charleston in 1951, at which time he purchased the Charleston Hardware and Furniture store from his deceased father’s partner and set up a law practice in the back office of the store.  He later purchased a small building across the street, where he practiced law until running for governor in 1970. In addition to practicing law for 20 years he was an aspiring entrepreneur during the ‘60’s, having built the only nursing home in town, in partnership with the local doctor, and also acquired a 360-acre cattle farm, where he raised registered angus cattle for about six years. He sold the hardware store and cattle shortly before running for governor in 1970. 

He was active in numerous church and civic leadership positions, and directed the choir at the First Methodist Church in Charleston. He continued to direct the choir on numerous occasions throughout his four years as governor. His proudest accomplishment prior to politics was his role in the peaceful integration of the Charleston schools in 1954, following the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Brown v. Board of Education. The Charleston School District later received recognition as a National Commemorative Site as the first school district in the former Confederate states to fully integrate.  

His only political setback was a loss in 1962 for the state legislature. He lost to the county circuit clerk, who lived in the larger co-county seat of Ozark. He swore off elective politics, but later had a change of heart and decided to run for governor in 1970.  In a crowded Democratic primary field of eight candidates, including former six-term governor, Orval E. Faubus, he joined the raced with only 1 percent name recognition.  He and Betty and a host of friends and relatives hit the campaign trail with a vengeance.  It was the waning age of retail politics and short campaigns and with only 90 days from entering the race until the Democratic primary he ultimately garnered enough votes to barely edge out Speaker of the House Hayes C. McClerkin and Attorney General Joe Purcell to get into a runoff with Orval Faubus, who led the ticket by a wide margin. Bumpers received virtually all the votes of the six other Democratic candidates and defeated Faubus handily in the runoff. He went on to defeat Gov. Winthrop Rockefeller in the general election and was sworn in as governor in January 1971. He was re-elected governor in 1972. 

In 1974 he decided to run for the United States Senate. He defeated Sen. William Fulbright, and went on to serve in the United States Senate for 24 years, being re-elected in 1980, 1986 and 1992.  He served on the Senate Appropriations Committee and the Energy and National Resources Committee, and was chair of the Small Business Committee. He was a staunch defender of the Constitution and was particularly proud of having opposed numerous efforts to amend the Constitution. 

He grew weary of the increasing incivility of politics and decided not to run for re-election in 1998. After leaving the Senate he briefly served as the head of the Center for Defense Information and then joined the Washington law firm Arent Fox. Ironically, his most prominent speech in Congress came two months after retirement when he returned to the Senate Chamber to deliver the closing argument in President Bill Clinton’s Impeachment trial, a case he felt was most unjust. Many commentators credited that speech in support of the President as pivotal in the President’s case and just as many have called it perhaps the greatest political oration of the 20th century. His contribution to the full exoneration of President Clinton was perhaps his proudest moment in politics. 

He and Betty had always maintained a residence in Arkansas, and 10 years after retirement from the Senate they moved back home to Little Rock where he continued to enjoy speaking throughout the state, lunching with old friends and spending time with his grandchildren, not to mention one of his favorite pastimes, grocery shopping.

The family wishes to thank his many friends and legions of former staff members who have continued to visit and provide support with a family-like love and devotion.  We also are particularly appreciative of the devoted caregivers who have allowed him to remain at home during the past year, and Arkansas Hospice for helping to keep him comfortable in his final days. In lieu of flowers, we ask that memorials be made to Every Child By Two at, or the Arkansas Nature Conservancy at 601 N. University Avenue, Little Rock, Arkansas 72205, or the charity of your choice.

A memorial service is scheduled for Sunday January 10, at 2:30 p.m. at First United Methodist Church in Little Rock. Online guestbook: