Former Congressman Jay Dickey dies at the age of 77

by Roby Brock ([email protected]) 4,050 views 

UPDATE: A family visitation will take place from 5-8 p.m. on Friday, April 28 at the Pine Bluff Country Club at 1100 W. 46th St. Funeral services will be held on Saturday, April 29 at First Baptist Church at 6501 South Hazel in Pine Bluff.

Jay Woodson Dickey, Jr., the former Fourth District Congressman from south Arkansas, has passed away from complications with Parkinson’s disease, Talk Business & Politics has learned. His son Ted Dickey confirmed the news early Friday morning.

Dickey, 77, served in Congress from 1993 to 2001. His upset election over Democrat Bill McCuen in 1992 – a year where Arkansas voters went overwhelmingly for native son Bill Clinton for President – made Dickey the first Republican to hold the south Arkansas seat since Reconstruction.

Known for his colorful storytelling and, at times, unconventional political style, Dickey remained in the headlines throughout his time in Congress. A staunch conservative, Dickey was strong on fiscal matters and an unwavering pro-life advocate. He slept in his office instead of renting a Washington, D.C. flat and returned home nearly every weekend to work his expansive district and connect with constituents.

His visibility and accessibility earned him favor with voters. Once while conducting an interview in Hampton, he left his dog, Romy, in his air-conditioned SUV. Romy slipped the vehicle into gear and rammed it into the radio station. The story gave the Congressman an animated tale to turn on the campaign trail and it drove voters to quiz Dickey often about Romy’s additional adventures.

A businessman and attorney, Dickey was born December 14, 1939 in Pine Bluff and graduated from the town’s high school. He attended Hendrix College and received his bachelor’s degree from the University of Arkansas in 1961 and his juris doctorate from the university in 1963. In business, he successfully launched Taco Bell and Baskin-Robbins franchises in south Arkansas.

While Dickey’s upset win in ’92 over McCuen launched his near decade in Congress, he survived a number of Democratic challengers every two years winning three re-election bids. He narrowly defeated then-State Sen. Jay Bradford in 1994, thumped long-shot challenger Vincent Tolliver in 1996, and comfortably eclipsed then-State Rep. Judy Smith in 1998.

Eventually, Dickey was beaten by a workhorse Democrat, then-State Sen. Mike Ross in 2000. The race was roughly 51-49% in Ross’ favor. Dickey would challenge Ross two years later but lost by a much larger margin.

In his post-Congressional years, he went back to his business and legal interests, eventually lobbying on federal issues.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson served with Dickey in Congress when Hutchinson represented the Third District of Arkansas. He said: “Jay was one of those unique people who loved life and everyone around him. I had the privilege of serving with Jay in Congress, and I have never seen anyone who was so determined to fight for the people in his district. He made friends easily, and he stuck by them. I played basketball with Jay in the House gym, where, like everywhere else in his life, he was a competitor. He will be missed.”

Current Fourth District Cong. Bruce Westerman, R-Hot Springs, issued a statement on Dickey’s passing:
“Jay Dickey was a trailblazer in Arkansas politics, becoming the first Republican elected to represent the Fourth Congressional District. During his four terms in Congress, Jay advocated for the people of Arkansas as a member of the Appropriations Committee and stood for small town values during his time in Washington. Jay was more than a congressman. He was a dedicated public servant for decades before running for the Fourth District seat, holding the positions of Pine Bluff city attorney and justice on the Arkansas Supreme Court. But above all, he was devoted to his family and was a man of faith. I mourn Jay’s passing and will keep his family in my thoughts and prayers during this difficult time.”

Doyle Webb, chairman of the Republican Party of Arkansas, released this statement: “Congressman Dickey was a man of great faith in God and his personal savior Jesus Christ. He worked tirelessly for the betterment of the people of the 4th Congressional District in Arkansas. He was a friend to many and his leadership will be missed by all who knew him.”

U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., who represented Dickey’s one-time district offered these comments: “Jay became a good friend and a trusted source of counsel during my first campaign for his old congressional district. He was a good man and a man of deep faith. Jay was one of a kind and we’re richer as individuals and as a state for having had him in our lives. My thoughts and prayers are with Jay’s family and friends.”

Former Fourth District Congressman Mike Ross, who faced Dickey twice, released the following statement: “I first met Jay 25 years ago when he ran for the U.S. Congress. Little did I know at the time that we would go on to find ourselves as political opponents in two elections. Following those elections, we became fast friends and remained so until his passing. I’ll always remember Jay for his steadfast commitment to the people of Arkansas and this country. We often talked about the issues of the day, but we also talked about our faith.  He was a born again Christian and was very public about it. He was a good man who served our state and nation faithfully. He will be missed. Jay’s family is in my prayers during this difficult time.”

Richard Bearden, principal with Impact Management Group, former executive director of the Arkansas GOP, and a former Dickey chief of staff said: “Jay was a wonderfully unique person who found his passion in life helping others. His election to Congress in 1992 was trailblazing in South Arkansas for the Republican Party, but he will be remembered more for the people he helped, the passion he held for Pine Bluff and UAPB, and the friends he made along the way. Jay was first and foremost a witness for his faith, a devoted dad to his four children and he will be missed by an extended family of former staffers, political associates and supporters from all around the country.”

U.S. Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark., added his thoughts on Jay Dickey’s service to the state: “Congressman Jay Dickey was a devoted public servant who dedicated himself to the people of Arkansas. He loved his state and was an unapologetic statesman who worked for its betterment. Jay was very helpful and kind to me in many ways when I became a congressman. My thoughts and prayers are with his family during this difficult time. Jay left a legacy of faith and example that they can be proud of.”

Lt. Gov. Tim Griffin, also a former Congressman, said: “I was extremely saddened to hear about the loss of my good friend, former Arkansas Congressman Jay Dickey. Jay was an Arkansas original who loved the Lord. He was Arkansas through and through, a public servant with a kind and gentle manner. He will be deeply missed by many throughout our nation and state, especially me.”

U.S. Rep. French Hill, R-Little Rock, sent this statement: “It is a sad day for our state; Congressman Dickey was a great public servant who made many contributions to Arkansas and our Nation as a whole. I always loved his irrepressible enthusiasm for lower Arkansas, and no one worked harder for his constituents than Jay. We are all fortunate to have had someone with such a strong character be a leader for our state, and Martha and I send our thoughts and prayers to his family and friends.”

Attorney General Leslie Rutledge said: “It would be hard to find a kinder man who enjoyed nothing more than traveling the Fourth Congressional District, telling stories and visiting with the people he represented than Jay Dickey. No matter the job he held or where it took him, Jay never forgot his south Arkansas roots. During his time in Congress, he worked tirelessly to help the Fourth Congressional District grow and prosper and to help solve any challenge facing his constituents. Jay was a man of deep faith, and I know he met his Lord and Savior when he left us on this earth. May God bring comfort and peace to Jay’s family and friends and all those across Arkansas who loved and knew him.”