Carl Simpson Whillock, aged 79, whose interwoven careers in politics, education and business left an imprint on every part of Arkansas, died Monday at Little Rock.
Born in the poor Van Buren County community of Scotland, Whillock became a lawyer, one of the state’s leading educators, an adviser and confidante to governors, senators and the president of the United States, and CEO of a corporation that changed the economic life of much of rural Arkansas.
Whillock grew up embracing the liberal democratic tradition and the Democratic Party. He was elected twice to the state House of Representatives from Van Buren County, first in 1952 at the age of 26, and he later was elected prosecuting attorney of the 14th Judicial District. That was the extent of his personal electioneering, but he exercised a powerful influence on Democratic elections and government policy across the last third of the 20th century.
He was an administrative assistant to U.S. Rep. James W. Trimble of Berryville, a New Deal liberal who represented the Third Congressional District for 11 terms, and he was a pivotal adviser to Dale Bumpers, David Pryor and Bill Clinton early in their political careers. He closed that long chapter of his life as the special assistant to the president for agriculture, trade and food assistance from 1997 to 2001.
Along the way, he was vice president of the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville, an institution with which he had a lifelong romance, and president of ArkansasStateUniversity at Jonesboro. For 16 years, he headed the Arkansas Electric Cooperatives Corp., which produced electricity for much of the Arkansas countryside and small towns. He built three hydroelectric dams on the Arkansas River, which brought cheaper power to rural dwellers, and he used the cheap electricity to lure the Nucor Steel Corp. to MississippiCounty.
Whillock was born May 7, 1926, the son of Joe and Johnnie Whillock, who owned several businesses. During World War II he joined the Navy at the age of 17 and was commissioned an ensign at 19. He attended Arkansas State Teachers College at Conway and Emory University at Atlanta and received a bachelor of science degree in social welfare from the University of Arkansas in 1948, a master of arts in history and political science in 1951 and, while he was working for Congressman Trimble, a law degree from George Washington University in 1960.
Back in Van Buren County, he taught school and was in the livestock feed and wholesale petroleum business with his parents at Clinton and was a part-time pastor at Methodist churches in Farmington and Goshen.
In 1952, he was elected to the state House of Representatives from Van Buren County and he was re-elected in 1954. Before the second term was out, he joined Congressman Trimble’s staff as his executive assistant. For eight years, he was the congressman’s right-hand man in Washington and his political coordinator back in the district. He never exploited his intimate knowledge of the Ozarks and its people personally, but it would serve his political acolytes well, particularly Clinton, Pryor and Bumpers.
He returned to Clinton in 1963 to practice law and the next year he was elected prosecuting attorney for the 14th Judicial District. He also was on the board of the county hospital, chairman of the Clinton water and sewer commission and president of the ClintonSchool Board. Near the end of his term as prosecutor., the University of Arkansas hired him as director of university relations. In two stints at the Fayetteville campus, he also would be assistant to the president and vice president for governmental relations and public affairs. In addition to those duties, he occasionally taught political science classes.
When Dale Bumpers, a Charleston lawyer, ran for governor in 1970 he sought out Whillock to help him.
In January 1974, Bill Clinton, a young law professor, came to his house to talk about running for Congress. Whillock dug out his files on the Third District. Soon afterward, they took off through the mountains with Whillock introducing Clinton to political friends in every town. Clinton would credit that effort with his future political success.
“He’s most important to me,” Clinton told the Arkansas legislature in 2001, “because the first trip I took out of Fayetteville, in the first race I ever made in 1974, was across the hills of North Arkansas with Carl Whillock, when only my mother thought I had any business in that race.”
Clinton would lose that race barely.
A few days after the journey with Clinton, David Pryor asked Whillock to manage his campaign for governor. He stayed on with Gov. Pryor as his executive secretary, chief of staff and chief policy adviser. In two years he would return to the University of Arkansas as vice president. He would shortly leave that job in 1978 to be president of ArkansasStateUniversity at Jonesboro.
In 1980, the Arkansas Electric Cooperative Corp. and Arkansas Electric Cooperatives Inc. hired him as president and CEO, managing the company and its power distribution system. He took over at a time of skyrocketing power costs. Over the years he would stabilize the system, build three hydroelectric dams on the Arkansas River and collaborate with old business foe Arkansas Power and Light Co. on coal-fired generation. One of the hydro plants, at Morrilton, is named for him.
He retired in 1996 but not for long. President Clinton asked him to come to Washington in his troubled second term to be a special assistant for agriculture policy and liaison with the Agriculture Department and farm interests. His wife, Margaret, accompanied him and was deputy director of the White House Visitors Office.
Carl and Margaret both served numerous appointments to public, private and charitable boards and commissions, national, statewide and locally. He was on the Board of Trustees of the University of Arkansas when he went to Washington in 1996. Clinton appointed him in 1987 to chair a state commission on tax reform. The commission recommended numerous changes in state tax laws to make the tax code more progressive and fairer to working people, but only a few were adopted by the legislature.
He was a member of the Board of Directors of Georgia Systems Operations Corp.; a director of the Electric Power Research Institute, the University of Arkansas Foundation, the Arkansas Museum of Science and History, the St. Vincent Infirmary Foundation, the University of Arkansas Industrial Advisory Council for the College of Engineering and the Greater Little Rock Chamber of Commerce. He was chairman of the Arkansas Advisory Council of the Winrock International Institute for Agricultural Development. He was a member of the Commission on Arkansas’s Future in 1988
Whillock and Margaret Moore of Fayetteville, a former schoolteacher, met and married in 1972. Both had children by previous marriages, he two sons and two daughters, she three sons and three daughters. He reared 10 children.
Survivors are his wife, Margaret of Little Rock; a sister, Mary Tumlinson of Clinton; four children, Tim Whillock and his wife Rickey of Clinton, Tom Whillock and his wife Gay of Clinton, Sally Conduff and her husband Wayne of Fayetteville, and Susan Lipe and her husband Kenny of Tulsa; six stepchildren, Sallie Overbey and her husband Tom of Fayetteville; Jenny Dakil and husband Edward of Norman, Okla., Melissa McKenney and husband Keith of Jasper AB, Canada, Larry Carter and his wife Sidney of Little Rock, Brennan Carter of Fayetteville and Benjamin Carter and his wife Jana of Fayetteville; 21 grandchildren; seven great-grandchildren; a brother-in-law, Rudy Moore and his wife Rhonda of Fayetteville; and an uncle, Jack Whillock and his wife Ruth of Clinton.
Funeral will be at 10 a.m. Wednesday at the First United Methodist Church at Eighth and Center Streets with Roller-Chenal Funeral Home (501-224-8300) assisting.
A reception will follow at the Great Hall at the ClintonCenter at 1200 President Clinton Avenue. Memorials may be made to the Carl S. Whillock Endowment in the School of Social Work, FulbrightCollege, at the University of Arkansas. Gifts may be made payable to the University of Arkansas Foundation, care of University Development, University of Arkansas, 300 University House., Fayetteville, AR 72701.