RIP David McCollum

I was not blessed with athletic ability.  Or coordination.  But I am very competitive.

My lack of skill did not stop me from dragging my parents to four years of soccer and a concurrent six years of basketball.

McCollum_David_400x400Because of my lack of talents on the field, and my interest in competition, I have found myself drawn to sports journalism and sports history.  Which, being in Central Arkansas, lead me to the writing of David McCollum.

Disclosure, for several years I attended church with him and his family.  My parents and sister still do.  But he was such an unassuming gentleman, my interest in his writing sprung not from familiarity with him. It came from what and how he wrote.

With a career of over 50 years, David entered the newspaper business as it was starting the transition from hot lead and pecking out a story on typewriters into the world of computers and electronic filing.  Likewise the field of sports journalism was transitioning from the era of colorful, hyperbolic language (which might not always be 100% accurate) into a time of bare facts crammed into increasingly shrinking column inches.

David did not try to be a colorful sportswriter. He was not trying to have the spotlight shown on him through his writing.  In his stories, David sought to serve the sports. But he brought to his writing a sense of history and style that hearkened back to bygone days without sacrificing the facts that he knew his readers wanted.  In serving his sports, he also served his readers.

While often the smartest guy in the room, especially when it came to Conway sports, David never acted like it.  In his prose, he shows his expertise without lording it over the reader.  He used his knowledge to let his readers be more informed. He was like that favorite teacher we all had at least once in high school or college. He wanted to bring us along on the journey.

For a sportswriter, working in Conway must have been a dream job.  Both UCA and Hendrix have active athletic programs.  And the Wampus Cats of Conway have long been dominant. In addition, during his career, David was able to see towns like Vilonia, Mayflower, and Greenbrier grow and develop into powerhouses in their own high school sports classifications.

Over the years, as I’ve been seeking to learn more about a sports topic, I’ve often gone back to his writing on a player, an event, a game.  Whether it was a story or an interview, his trademark understated and engaging prose was on display.  Earlier this year, I was needing background on a Little Rock Touchdown Club scholarship because we were honoring a recipient at Little Rock City Hall.

There it was.

In a column David wrote a few years ago, there were not just the facts, but the emotions. In writing about how some Texas Longhorns had created a scholarship in Little Rock to pay tribute to the memory of one of their own, David touched on the sentiment without being maudlin.  He did not pile on the irony of Longhorns who beat the Hogs in the 1969 shootout creating a scholarship here. He let the story speak for itself.  The kinship the two teams feel for each other now came through in David’s prose.

As David’s son Gavin said in making the announcement his father had died, “there were more stories for him to write.”  Yes, there were.  I feel sorry for future athletes in Faulkner County that they won’t get to be interviewed by him.  I feel sorry for the readers who won’t get his take on a future game.

David had seen enough games to know that the outcome does not always go your way.  As much as he would probably be uncomfortable with the outpouring of emotions that are now going on, I think he would understand we need to do this.  We need to express our sadness.  It helps us to move on to the next challenge.  And part of that challenge is a world without him.  I know he would be very pleased to see, just as a team rallies together, people are rallying together to support his wife and son.

So thank you, David McCollum. For your life and your commitment to excellence.  Though it has fallen out of usage these days, I’m old school enough to pay tribute to your life and career with an old journalism and PR tool to indicate the end.

David McCollum -30-

Little Rock Look Back: Lottie Holt Shackelford

Lottie at Civil RightsWhile this headline may say “Little Rock Look Back,” Lottie Shackelford is still very much focused on the present and the future!

On April 30, 1941, future Little Rock Mayor Lottie Shackelford was born. Throughout her career in public service she has been a trailblazer.

Active in community activities and politics, she ran for the City Board in 1974 and lost.  But she was appointed to the Little Rock City Board in September 1978 to fill a vacancy.  This made her the first African American woman to serve on he City Board, and indeed on any governing board for the City (during Reconstruction, there were at least six African Americans on the City Council, but they were all men.) She was subsequently elected to a full-term on the City Board in 1980 winning 55% of the vote over three male candidates.

She was subsequently re-elected in 1984 (unopposed) and in 1988 (with 60% of the vote).

In January 1987, Shackelford became the first female mayor of Little Rock when she was chosen by her colleagues on the City Board to serve in that position. She was Mayor until December 1988.  During that time, Mayor Shackelford invited the Little Rock Nine back to the City to be recognized for the 30th anniversary of their integration of Central High School.

From 1982 until 1992, she served as Executive Director of the Arkansas Regional Minority Purchasing Council.  She left that position to serve as Deputy Campaign Manager of Clinton for President.  She subsequently served on the Clinton/Gore transition team. She later served on the Overseas Private Investment Corporation from 1993 to 2003. She was the first African American to be in that position.

A graduate of Philander Smith College, she has also studied at the Arkansas Institute of Politics at Hendrix College and the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.

Mayor Shackelford has also served on numerous boards including the Little Rock Airport Commission, Philander Smith College, Chapman Funds (Maryland) and Medicis Pharmaceutical Corporation (Arizona).  She has the longest tenure of any serving as Vice-Chair of the Democratic National Committee.

Mayor Shackelford was in the first class of inductees for the Arkansas Black Hall of Fame.  In 2015, she was inducted into the Arkansas Civil Rights Heritage Trail.

Pulitzers Play Little Rock: WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF?

WAVW LR Jan65As April winds down, today’s featured play did not actually win the Pulitzer Prize for Drama.  In 1963, Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? was the choice of the Pulitzer Drama Jury to receive the award.  However, each Pulitzer category’s jury can be overruled by the Pulitzer Board.  In 1963, they chose not to award the Pulitzer in Drama.

Though the Pulitzer board is notoriously tight-lipped about their decisions, the reason for their rejection of the Albee play is known.  At the time, the Pulitzer rules contained language (written originally by Mr. Pulitzer in setting up the prizes) that stated the prize winners must be uplifting and represent high moral values.  With its frank depiction of a fractured marriage and use of vulgarities, the Pulitzer board did not feel that Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? met that criteria.

The resulting outcry over the exclusion of Albee’s play contributed to the removal of the clause.  Albee did subsequently win for his plays A Delicate Balance, Seascape, and Three Tall Women.

The national tour of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? came to Little Rock in January 1965.  The tour starred Vicki Cummings and Kendall Clark.  Bryerly Lee and Donald Briscoe played the younger couple.  The production was directed by Alan Schneider (who had won the Tony Award for directing the play on Broadway).

Little Rock native Ben Piazza was a close friend of Edward Albee.  When Albee was working on the play, Piazza participated in the first read-through of it. He did not appear in the original Broadway cast, but ended up playing the part of Nick on Broadway for most of the show’s run.  He still holds the record of appearing in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? in a Broadway run longer than any other actor.

2018 marks the 100th anniversary of the first Pulitzer Prize for Drama being given. To pay tribute to 100 years of the Pulitzer for Drama, twenty-nine days this month a different Little Rock production of a Pulitzer Prize winning play was highlighted.  Many of these titles have been produced numerous times.  This look veered from high school to national tours in an attempt to give a glimpse into Little Rock’s breadth and depth of theatrical history.

Little Rock’s former 1868 City Hall celebrated today

2018 marks 150 years since the opening of the 1868 Little Rock City Hall, which was located at 120 to 122 West Markham.  This two story building was the home to Little Rock civic life from 1868 until 1908, when the current building was opened.

After City offices moved out, the building housed private businesses until it was torn down in 1964 for urban renewal.  In the early 1980s, the land once again returned to public use when a portion of the Statehouse Convention Center was built on the site.

To mark the 150th anniversary of the opening of the 1868 City Hall, two plaques will be dedicated today.  The first pays tribute to the leaders who oversaw the construction and opening of the building and those who were present when the building closed as City Hall.

The other plaque honors the African American leaders who were on the Little Rock City Council between 1868 and 1893. It also pays tribute to Mifflin Wistar Gibbs who was elected Little Rock Police Judge in 1874.  He became the first African American to be elected to a municipal judgeship in the United States.

While Little Rock city government met in a variety of spaces between 1832 and 1868, records are incomplete as to the locations of those buildings.  The 1868 City Hall location is the first City Hall for which a location and appearance are known.

Pulitzers Play Little Rock: Lawrence Hamilton in THE PIANO LESSON at Arkansas Rep

LawrenceHamiltonAugust Wilson received his second Pulitzer for The Piano Lesson in 1990.   It was thirteen years later, that play would take the stage of Arkansas Rep in January 2003  And while he was not the lead, local favorite Lawrence Hamilton shone in the play.

Hamilton played Wining Boy, a musician and gambler who was smooth at hiding his secrets. (This being an August Wilson play, almost every character had secrets.)  Others in the cast were J. Bernard Calloway and Trish McCall as the brother and sister at the center of the play who were struggling about the future of a family heirloom.  Kevin E. Jones, Veronika G. Macon, Ron Scott, Dennis Bivings, and Marsha Murdock rounded out the cast.

The production was directed by Gilbert McCauley.  The design team included Mike Nichols (set), Yslan Hicks (costumes), Matthew Richards (lighting) and M. Jason Pruzin (sound).

Hamilton would revisit the role of Wining Boy in a production at Cape Fear Regional Theatre just a few weeks before his 2014 death.

2018 marks the 100th anniversary of the first Pulitzer Prize for Drama being given. To pay tribute to 100 years of the Pulitzer for Drama, each day this month a different Little Rock production of a Pulitzer Prize winning play will be highlighted.  Many of these titles have been produced numerous times.  This look will veer from high school to national tours in an attempt to give a glimpse into Little Rock’s breadth and depth of theatrical history.

Little Rock Look Back: National Balloon Race starts in Little Rock

On April 29, 1926, nine hot air balloons took off from Little Rock’s airport (which was actually just an airfield at the time) in a national race to win the Litchfield Trophy.  In addition to the trophy, the winner would be on the American team in an international balloon race in Belgium.

The New York Times coverage noted that the weather conditions were ideal as the balloons took off in five minute intervals between 5:00pm and 5:30pm.  The test balloon (akin to a pace car in a car race) was the Arkansas Gazette‘s Skylark.  It took off at 4:25 and headed in the direction of the northeast, which was the desired direction.

The nine balloons, in order of liftoff were: the US Army from Phillips Field in Maryland; the US Army from McCook Field in Ohio; the Goodyear Southern California; the Detroit; the Goodyear IV (whose pilot Ward T. Van Orman had won the 1924 and 1925 contests); US Army from Scott Field; a balloon piloted by a Danish pilot Svend A. U. Rasmussen; US Army balloon from Langley Field in Virginia; and the Akron National Aeronautic Association balloon.

The pilots carried provisions for 48 hours and were equipped for sea flying.  Each had a radio and loud speaker.  KTHS radio of Hot Springs (a forerunner to today’s KTHV TV station) was broadcasting the location of each balloon.  As they left the Arkansas radio station’s range, there was a network of other stations which would do the same.

It was expected that the race would last between eighteen and thirty-six hours.  The last balloon aloft was Van Orman for the third year.  He lasted approximately 31 hours and landed near Chesapeake Bay.

Though no headcount was given, the New York Times called the viewing audience “the largest crowd ever assembled in Little Rock.”

Many thanks to Brian Lang of the Arkansas Arts Center for giving me the tip on this.

Little Rock Look Back: Sam M Wassell

On April 28, 1883, future Little Rock Mayor Sam M. Wassell was born.  His grandfather John W. Wassell had been appointed Mayor of Little Rock in 1868.  He is the only Little Rock Mayor to be a grandson of another Little Rock Mayor.

Sam Wassell served on the Little Rock City Council from 1928 through 1934 and again from 1940 through 1946.  He is one of the few 20th Century Little Rock Mayors who previously served on the City Council.

Wassell was an attorney; he practiced law privately and also served as an Assistant US Attorney.  In 1930, he ran unsuccessfully for the Democratic nomination for the US Congress representing the 5th Congressional District, which at the time included Little Rock.

Wassell ran for Mayor in 1947 and was unopposed in the general election.  (Though the Democratic primary was heated as he took on the incumbent Dan Sprick.)   He was unopposed in his bid for re-election in 1949.  During his second term, President Harry S. Truman visited Little Rock.  In 1951, he sought a third term as Mayor.  No Little Rock Mayor had been successful in achieving a third consecutive term since 1923.  Though he received the Democratic nomination, the Republican party nominated Pratt Remmel who defeated Wassell by a 2 to 1 margin.

With a new USS Little Rock recently put into naval service, it is interesting to note that Wassell’s wife, Ruth Wassell christened the previous USS Little Rock in 1944.

Mayor Wassell died on December 23, 1954 and is buried at Roselawn Cemetery in Little Rock.