FAYETTEVILLE — It was a homecoming of sorts for former U.S. President Bill Clinton Sunday (April 15) as he returned to Fayetteville paying homage to his longtime friends and mentors of sorts — Dale and Betty Bumpers.
Clinton delivered the inaugural speech in the Dale and Betty Bumpers Distinguished Lecture Program at the university to about 500 invited guests. And perhaps no one could have done it better, as Clinton and the Bumpers share a rich history of public service to the state, country and world at large.
He said Betty Bumpers was crusader for child wellness and a nuclear-free world long before it was the thing to do.
“Hilary once said it’s a good thing women have the responsibility gene in the family. Betty Bumper has the responsibility gene on steroids,” Clinton said.
He personally thanked his friend and mentor Dale Bumpers — a former Arkansas Governor for four years and U.S. Senator for 24 years — for his decades of public service and impeccable honor.
“I asked Dale if he would consider running for President in the 1976 election and told him I would be honored to serve on his campaign. But he said no, because he had to honor his committment made the prior year when he was elected to the U.S. Senate, a job he held for 24 years,” Clinton said. “I am firmly convinced he would have won the presidency in 1976 but it was more important for him to keep his word.”
University of Arkansas Chancellor David Gearhart said during Bumpers’ tenure in Congress he worked to secure more than $80 million in funds for facilities and programs that benefited the state, from the John W. Tyson Center for Poultry Excellence in Fayetteville to the university’s Rice Research and Extension Center in Stuttgart.
Clinton said the first time he laid eyes on the University of Arkansas he was a 12-year-old saxophone-toting preteen who attended band camp.
“When I was 16, I got to come back and spend two days here because the subject of my junior thesis was the University of Arkansas. I am sure my thesis was sincere, but I really just wanted to get back to Fayetteville,” he said.
The crowd also learned Clinton was the former law professor for Gearhart.
The crowd got a chuckle when Clinton said he saw a lot promise in Gearhart way back then so he gave him a better grade.
“But I reckon he’s earned it at this point,” Clinton joked.
The speech was mixture of personal stories, both homegrown Arkansas and other tales of Clinton’s humanitarian efforts in Rwanda woven together by a common thread of agriculture.
Clinton was asked to comment on the importance of agricultural studies that were recently deemed one of the most five useless college degrees by Yahoo Education.
Clinton said nothing could be further from the truth, adding the folks who wrote it must never pause to consider where their food comes from, that it must just magically appear from thin air.
He challenged the university to educate against the ignorance using an example he recently saw in Mexico City, one of the largest, most polluted cities in the world.
Clinton said businesses and homes in the crowded city are growing vertical gardens up the building walls and atop flat roofs that have great reduced carbon emissions, an example where agriculture is helping to cure ecological ills.
When asked what else can be done to help reduce U.S. dependence on foreign oil, Clinton touted the benefits of natural gas, saying it is already making a difference.
“Natural gas is a great bridge fuel and we need to go and get the gas,” he said.
He applauded the passage of reduced auto emissions saying when government, automakers and environmentalists work together, everyone wins.