Little Rock Look Back: Senator Joseph T. Robinson Funeral at Little Rock First Methodist

Senator Joseph Taylor Robinson

Today, Arkansas political icon and longtime United States Senator Dale Bumpers is being remembered in a memorial service at Little Rock’s First United Methodist Church.

On another Sunday afternoon, this time in July 1937, another United States Senator and former Arkansas Governor was also remembered in a service in the same church.  That man was Joseph Taylor Robinson.

Unlike Senator Bumpers, Senator Robinson died in office. Both men, however, shared many of the same qualities. Both were recognized as leaders within their parties and within the Senate. Both were counselors to Presidents. Senator Robinson was usually President Franklin Roosevelt’s point person to shepherd legislation on Capitol Hill.  Senator Bumpers worked closely with Presidents Carter and Clinton.  Both men flirted with national politics. Robinson was the Vice Presidential nominee of the Democratic Party in 1928. Bumpers seriously contemplated a run for the White House on more than one occasion.

It seems fitting that Senator Bumpers would be memorialized at a place of worship which had also been the site of the final rites for another Arkansas lion of the Senate.

Senator Robinson died in Washington D.C. on July 14, 1937.  His wife was in Little Rock making preparations for a trip the couple was to take. Following his demise, Mrs. Robinson went to Washington to accompany her husband’s body back to Arkansas.

The Senator was honored with a memorial service in the Senate chambers on Friday, July 17.  President Roosevelt and the cabinet joined members of the senate on the floor in what was described as a state funeral without pomp.  Mrs. Robinson sat with her brothers and two nephews as well as Bernard Baruch and Arkansas Power & Light’s Harvey Couch, who were Senator Robinson’s closest friends.  Eleanor Roosevelt was one of the many crowded in the senate galleries observing the service.  Following the service his body remained in the chambers until it was transferred to a train to make the journey to Little Rock.

The funeral train bore his body, his family, 50 senators and over twenty congressmen. It reached Little Rock around 8am on Sunday the 19th.  From there, Senator Robinson’s body was taken to his house on Broadway Street until noon.  It subsequently lay in state at the Arkansas State Capitol until being escorted by military to First Methodist Church.

1,500 people packed the church a half hour before the service began. The sun shone through the windows onto the flag-draped coffin as Rev. H. Bascom Watts led the service. Among the pallbearers was former Vice President Charles G. Dawes. Governor Carl Bailey of Arkansas was joined by Governors Richard Leche of Louisiana and E.W. Marland of Oklahoma.

As the funeral procession reached Roselawn Cemetery, thunder echoed. The skies which had alternated between sun and rain that day, returned to rain. A deluge greeted the end of the service and sent visitors hurrying for shelter at the end.