Ruth Whitaker, the long-time GOP advocate from Crawford County who served in the Arkansas Senate for 12 years, has passed away Monday (Nov. 10) morning. She was 77.
She is survived by her son, Bryan and wife Carol of Fayetteville, daughter Alicia and husband Ron Viers of Cedarville, and three granddaughters. Her husband, Dr. T.J. Whitaker, preceded her in death.
According to a note from former Rep. Rick Green of Van Buren, Whitaker passed away in Northwest Arkansas surrounded by her family and close friend, former State Rep. Sarah Agee.
Whitaker, elected to Senate District 3 (Crawford and Franklin counties; part of Washington County), served in the 2011 session as vice chair of the Judiciary Committee and was on the Insurance & Commerce Committee. She fell ill during that session, her last before being term-limited.
Legislation she sponsored or actively co-sponsored included:
• Jesse’s law: The law required Arkansas boat docks and marinas to be brought up to National Fire Protection Association Standards.
• Legislation requiring that a majority of members on the Arkansas Oil & Gas Commission be experienced in the development, production and transportation of oil and gas.
• Legislation providing funding for the Arkansas State Police to build and equip the Winthrop Paul Rockefeller Arkansas State Police Hall of Honor,
• Creation of the Arkansas Acceleration Fund within the Arkansas Science & Technology Authority.
• Legislation providing funds for expansion of the library at the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith.
She also was able to secure state funds for projects in her district. That legislation included funding of rural fire departments in Franklin County, riverfront improvement funds in Ozark, funds for Van Buren industrial park improvements, funds for rodeo ground improvements in Charleston, and funds for the Regional Intermodal Transportation Authority in Crawford and Sebastian counties.
Several pieces of legislation she authored or co-sponsored focused on the promotion of native Arkansas wineries and the state’s wine industry.
Gov. Mike Beebe said he remembers Whitaker’s “deep love” for the state and its people.
"Ruth Whitaker was a strong, independent Arkansan who didn’t fear anyone or shy away from anything. While we didn't always agree politically, most conversations between Ruth and me would still end with both of us laughing. She carried a deep love of Arkansas and her people, and I will miss her wry smile and sensibility,” Beebe said in a statement.
Sen. Jake Files, R-Fort Smith, issued this statement: “Senator Whitaker was a respected leader and was very respected while she worked on party politics or across the aisle, but she always stood on principle. She was a fearless fighter for our Region, and her legacy will be one of great pride to her family, the people of Crawford County, and the citizens of Arkansas. People like her don't come along often, and we are fortunate to have had her as a legislator and friend for so long.”
Rex Terry, Sebastian County Republican Party Chairman, provided this statement to The City Wire: “Ruth Whitaker brought a great mix of intelligence, hard work and common sense to the Arkansas senate. She was accessible and responsive to her constituents, and highly regarded by her friends and colleagues in both parties. As a Republican, Senator Whitaker worked hard to build a two party system in our state, and her success paved the way for the party’s move toward the majority. She loved being in the Senate and she loved our state and nation. I always valued her friendship, as did so many people. She will be missed.”
Prior to serving in the Arkansas Senate, Whitaker was elected to the Cedarville city council, and was a former PTA president.
She was a member of the Arkansas Federation of Republican Women and past president of the Women's Auxiliary to the American Medical Association of Sebastian County. She was elected secretary of the Arkansas State Republican Party from 1992-1994 and held other appointments in the state party, including vice-chairman and parliamentarian. She is a lifetime member of the American Legion Auxiliary and the Alden Kindred of America tracing her lineage back to the first settlers aboard the Mayflower.
Whitaker earned a bachelor’s degree from Hendrix College.
The City Wire will update this story later today.