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Tribute To Joe Purcell

Sen. Blanche Lincoln

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Mr. President, on Saturday, June 24, one of the finest public servants that my State has produced was honored in his hometown of Benton, AR. Joe Edward Purcell was many things to many people. He was a devoted family man. He was a loyal friend. He was also a dedicated public servant whose reputation for integrity and professionalism brought honor and respectability to every public office he held.

Joe Purcell was born in the small southeast Arkansas town of Helena. Shortly after graduating from Little Rock Junior College, he enlisted in the U.S. Army for service in World War II. Upon his return from service, he entered law school at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville and graduated in 1952. Later that year, he opened his law practice in Benton and quickly earned the reputation throughout the community of a trustworthy advocate of the people he represented.

``Honest Joe'' carried that reputation with him through what would become a distinguished career of public service at both city and State levels of government. Beginning in 1955, Joe served as Benton City Attorney and later as Benton Municipal Judge. In 1967, he was elected as attorney general for the State of Arkansas. During his tenure, his leadership led to a number of reforms and innovations, including the establishment of the consumer protection office which to this day provides consumer education and promotes the principles of fair business practices and honest balloting.

After an unsuccessful gubernatorial campaign, Joe was elected three times as Lieutenant Governor beginning in 1975. In that capacity, he also became the acting Governor of our State for 6 days in early 1979, when he filled the unexpired term of former Governor and Senator-elect, David Pryor, in the days prior to the gubernatorial inauguration of Bill Clinton. It was Clinton who would later describe his predecessor as ``a self-made man who represented honesty and integrity in public service.'' Joe would serve as our State's Lieutenant Governor until his retirement from public service in 1981.

The Benton sidewalk memorial that was recently unveiled in honor of Joe Purcell is fittingly located just in front of the old Federal building downtown. I am hopeful that it will serve as a reminder to generations of Arkansans not just of the numerous accomplishments that Joe Purcell compiled over his political career but also of the legacy of integrity and public service that he has left us all. The genuine compassion he held for those around him led him to a life dedicated to making his community and his State better places to live for all of us. It is truly a selfless principle for those of us in public service, and those of us in our personal lives, to embody each and every day.

I am proud to have on my staff a young man named David Hogue. David is the grandson of Joe Purcell and it was at his suggestion that this tribute in Benton came to fruition. David has been a tremendous asset to my office, and I am appreciative of all of his hard work and dedication on behalf of our State and its citizens. This fall, he will be headed to law school in Fayetteville, just like his grandfather so many years before, and I wish him the very best.

It is often said that a community reveals itself, not only by the men it produces, but also by the men it honors and remembers. Joe Purcell embodied the best in all of us and because of people like him, the community of Benton and the State of Arkansas are such wonderful places to live today.