Rector native, regional leader dies at age 61

Wednesday, December 5, 2007
Cecil Holifield

Rector native Cecil H. Holifield, 61, a Blytheville community leader who had served in key positions at both Mississippi County Community College (now Arkansas Northeastern College) in Blytheville and Arkansas State University in Jonesboro, died Monday, Nov. 26, at St. Bernards Regional Medical Center in Jonesboro.

He was born in Rector, the son of Farris and Lora Holifield, who along with his sister, Jean Miles, preceded him in death. He is survived by his wife Cindy, son Robert, daughter Emily, and two sisters, Glenda Long and Phyllis Messee.

Holifield obtained multiple degrees in education from Arkansas State University, including a bachelors, masters and specialist degrees. He also completed course requirements for a doctoral degree from the University of Mississippi.

In 1964, Holifield was Arkansas' first alternate to future President Bill Clinton to attend Boys' Nation. He went on to receive the R.E. Lee Wilson Award for Citizenship in 1968, the highest honor bestowed on a graduating senior.

Holifield's 28-year career in education started as a speech and drama teacher at Jonesboro High School. He joined the former Mississippi County Community College as one of its founding associates in May 1975 as assistant to the president. He moved up the ranks and by 1983 became Dean of Community Affairs then Dean for Advancement and College Relations a year later.

As Holifield worked for the college, he also worked for the community, becoming involved in volunteer work that stretched county-wide. He has been hailed as "a community leader and volunteer who made a difference."

In 1977 he established the MCCC Foundation and worked to raise funds to assist needy students. As the executive director of the Foundation, Holifield provided a second chance for many students looking to improve their lives.

Friends say Holifield was a natural-born fundraiser. Although he may have been somewhat shy, he was never shy about asking for money for a good cause.

Holifield was once again promoted in 1988 to Dean of Educational Services and Advancement at MCCC and again in 1991 as Vice President and Dean of Educational Services and Advancement.

He finished his career in education at Arkansas State University, where he held the position of Vice President for University Relations.

"He was known throughout the community as a kind-hearted individual who always wore a smile," said Rachel Gifford of Arkansas Northeastern College. "His ingenuity when it came to raising money for a good cause led to the college's establishment of the very successful Car Party 19 years ago. This event has raised approximately $200,000 for the college's foundation since its inception. Cecil's legacy will continue in the many acts of selflessness he showed throughout his life. The Cecil H. Holifield Scholarship was established through the college foundation in 1996 to honor Cecil for his commitment to education. Through this scholarship and many acts of generosity he exemplified during his life, Cecil left an indelible mark on the college and the community and the lives of all citizens of the area."

Holifield served as executive diretor of the Blytheville/Gosnell Area Chamber of Commerce from 1998 to 2004. He also was an active member of the Blytheville Lions Club and had a longtime working relationship with the Blytheville Courier News. In 1994 he received the Melvin Jones Award, the highest honor in Lionism, symbolizing dedication to the true spirit of the organization based on service, loyalty and enthusiasm for Lions International.

Funeral services were at 10 a.m. Thursday, Nov. 29, at the First United Methodist Church in Blytheville with Rev. William Christopher Cooper officiating. Graveside services were at 1:30 p.m. Thursday at Woodland Heights Cemetery in Rector.

The family requests memorials to the Cecil H. Holifield Scholarship fund at Arkansas Northeastern College, P.O. Box 1109, Blytheville, AR 72315 or First United Methodist Church, Seventh and Main Street, Blytheville, AR 72315.

Cobb Funeral Home of Blytheville was in charge of arrangements.

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