State leader, Rector native, Jerry Bookout dies at 72
Rector native Jerry P. Bookout of Jonesboro, who served 34 years in the state General Assembly, both as a state representative and state senator, died Wednesday, Feb. 22, at age 72 after a battle with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, a cancer of the lymph nodes.
Sen. Bookout was born Nov. 2, 1933, in Rector to the late Paul Otis and Mary Bookout. He was remembered in a memorial service Friday morning at the First Baptist Church in Jonesboro for his commitment to his family and his lifelong dedication to public service as he served his community, state and nation.
"He was a boy from Rector who became a friend and confidant to a president, to governors and other leaders," First Baptist pastor Rev. Bruce Tippit said at the service. "He became a man who served his nation with distinction. His family is proud he served people with needs. They are proud of his great witness to Christ's power, love and grace."
Other speakers at the service included former Arkansas governor and U.S. Sen. David Pryor, Attorney General Mike Beebe and Arkansas State University president Dr. Les Wyatt.
"He has been very special, someone who has made a difference in all our lives," Sen. Pryor said. "Jerry Bookout inspired all of us."
A letter of condolence from President Bill Clinton was read, and Beebe read letters from surviving chief executives who had served with Bookout, including former governor and U.S. senator Dale Bumpers and former governor Jim Guy Tucker.
Beebe also read a letter from Gov. Mike Huckabee, who did not attend, but sent a framed American flag and a proclamation in honor of Bookout.
As a civic leader, Bookout was active in the Elks Lodge, the American Legion, the Masonic Lodge, Retired Officers Association and the Jonesboro Chamber of Commerce. He served as chair of the AHEC Advisory Committee for Northeast Arkansas and was an active member of the First Baptist Church of Jonesboro. He also served on the Baptist Health board of Trustees for 20 years.
Bookout was elected by his colleagues as President Pro Tempore of the Arkansas Senate in 1991. His legislative work focused on issues involving health, education, prisons and the military. Early is his legislative career, he sponsored legislation that elevated his alma mater, Arkansas State College, to university status in 1967. In addition, his work led to the establishment of the first doctoral and physical therapy programs at ASU.
He was instrumental in securing funding for the ASU Convocation Center, which continues to be a great asset to the community and Northeast Arkansas. Bookout coordinated the effort to raise funds to provide furnishings for the ASU student union. In 1997, he was honored as a Distinguished Alumnus of ASU. In recognition of the lifetime support of the Bookout family, the south portal of ASU was named Bookout Plaza.
"Jerry Bookout never, ever wavered in his support for ASU -- he was our Senator," Dr. Wyatt said.
During his legislative career in the House and Senate, Sen. Bookout sponsored or co-sponsored over 600 pieces of legislation. Dr. Harry Ward, former Chancellor of UAMS, said Bookout was "a thoughtful, gifted leader for all of Arkansas."
"He had a special interest in our area health education centers and was a major supporter of science and agriculture in our state," he added.
In the area of education, Bookout supported legislation which created kindergartens in public school and provided free textbooks and improved working conditions for teachers. He was the sole sponsor of a bill that created the Arkansas State Academic Challenge Scholarship, which has provided more than $94,879,297 to 39,120 Arkansas students to date. He authored legislation to modernize and revitalize public retirement systems for state employees, university faculty and staff and local police and fire departments.
As co-chairman of the Correction Subcommittee of the Legislative Council, he became one of the most knowledgeable senators on issues affecting state prisons and the rehabilitation and housing of inmates. He authored legislation creating the successful Boot Camp program for young offenders. While in the Senate, he and his son, Rep. Paul Bookout, became the first father and son to serve concurrent terms in the Arkansas General Assembly.
He made many long lasting friendships in his legislative career. "Jerry Bookout saw something good in everyone he met," said friend and legislative colleague Jay Bradford. "I cherish every moment I was privileged to serve with him. His son, Paul, is cut from the same cloth. I have lost a dear friend and the people of Arkansas have lost a true public servant."
Bookout served his nation through military service beginning with the ROTC program at Arkansas State College and three years of active duty following by a long career in the Arkansas National Guard. After 30 years, he retired from the Guard, receiving the Arkansas Distinguished Service Medal, the U.S. Legion of Merit award and the General C.C. Andrews Freedom Award, retiring with the rank of Colonel.
Bookout graduated from Arkansas State College in 1955 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in history and political science. Following graduation and three years of active duty, he returned to Jonesboro to become involved in all aspects of the community and began a long career as a funeral home director.
Family and home played a central role in Sen. Bookout's life. One of his favorite pastimes was landscaping and sitting in his backyard. He had a passion for planting trees, especially in the schools his grandchildren attended. He often told his children and grandchildren, "Each of us needs to pay back to our community, and we should always try to make a difference for those in need."
Sen. Bookout is survived by his wife of 49 years, Loretta Langford Bookout; his son and daughter-in-law, Paul and Sherry Bookout; his daughter and son-in-law, Jill and Bryan Rogers; three grandchildren, Morgan and P.J. Bookout and Rachel Rogers, all of Jonesboro, and a sister, Carolyn Hilburn of Kennett, Mo.
A private burial was held with military honors. Honorary pallbearers were the First Baptist Church Adult Men's 6 Sunday School class, past and present Arkansas legislators, municipal and county officials, retired military officers and NEA Clinic physicians. Arrangements were by Langford-Bookout Funeral Home of Jonesboro.
Memorials may be made to the UAMS Arkansas Cancer Research Center Foundation, Hope Circle, First Baptist Church Care Center, Jonesboro Church Health Center, Arkansas State University Alumni Foundation or St. Bernards Hospice.