Future Little Rock Mayor James Weldon “Buddy” Benafield was born on July 5, 1927 in Coy, Arkansas. As a child he spent part of his time chopping cotton. He graduated from England High School and then served in the U.S. Navy. Following his stint in the military, he enrolled in Arkansas State Teachers College (now the University of Central Arkansas).
After college he returned to England. From 1967 to 1974 he served as Mayor of England. While in England, he also worked to establish a hospital there. While he was Mayor, Benafield also served as a legislative aide to Governor Dale Bumpers.
After moving to Little Rock, Benafield served as legislative aide to Governor Frank White. He had been a donor to former Governor Bill Clinton, who had been defeated by White. Though a staunch Democrat, he remarked to the media at the time that he had been a friend of White’s and never declined a Governor’s request for help.
Long active in Democratic politics, he had served as Secretary of the State Democratic Party. (One of his daughters, Dawne Benafield Vandiver has carried on the family tradition serving in several leadership positions in the State Democratic Party. Most recently she was Executive Director of the party.)
In January 1982, Benafield was appointed to fill a vacancy on the Little Rock City Board of Directors. He ran for election to a full term in November 1982 and was reelected in November 1986. From January 1983 to December 1984, Benafield served as Mayor of Little Rock.
After leaving the Little Rock City Board in January 1991, he has remained engaged in civic matters. He served a term on the Arkansas Highway and Transportation Commission. He was first appointed in January 1993 by Gov. Jim Guy Tucker to fill out the remainder of Rodney Slater’s term. Slater had resigned to to take a job in the Clinton Administration in Washington DC. In 1995, he was reappointed, this time to a full ten year term. This was only the second time a member of the Highway Commission had been reappointed.
Buddy Benafield is the only Little Rock Mayor to have also been a mayor of another Arkansas city. He continues to be involved in farming and a variety of business ventures and has maintained his interest in politics.