Former First Lady Betty Bumpers dies at 93

by Roby Brock ( 410 views 

Photo courtesy of UA Pryor Center for Arkansas Oral and Visual History.

Former Arkansas First Lady Betty Bumpers has died at 93 from complications from dementia and a recent fall, according to her family.

Bumpers, who was married to the late former Governor and U.S. Senator Dale Bumpers, was an independent political force for children’s advocacy and nuclear peace. Dale Bumpers died in 2016. The couple had three children — Brent, Bill and Brooke — and seven grandchildren.

Born Betty Lou Flanagan in Grand Prairie (Franklin Co.) in 1925, she attended Iowa State University, the Chicago Academy of Fine Art and the University of Arkansas. She was a public school teacher in Charleston, Arkansas when she married Dale Bumpers, who was completing his studies at Northwestern University.

The couple settled in Charleston, where she helped with the desegregation of the Charleston School District in 1954 following the Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas landmark decision, according to the UA Pryor Center for Arkansas Oral and Visual History.

As First Lady of Arkansas when her husband ascended to governor, Betty Bumpers led an effort to improve childhood immunizations, a cause she further expanded with U.S. First Lady Rosalynn Carter. She was one of the original ten founders of Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families in 1977.

Betty Bumpers was also a major advocate for nuclear disarmament. She co-founded Peace Links, an international organization of women who sought to curb nuclear weapons proliferation, in the early 1980’s as an effort to curb escalation in the nuclear arms race.

Peace Links organized discussions of peace-related issues, orchestrated rallies in cities across the country, provided educational materials for parents and educators to teach peace, held voter participation activities, and established cultural exchanges for Soviet women to visit the United States and for American women to visit the USSR, according to the Encyclopedia of Arkansas.

Bumpers child immunization efforts led to her support for comprehensive AIDS vaccine research. In 1999, then President Bill Clinton dedicated the Vaccine Research Center (VRC), a new venture for the National Institutes of Health (NIH), in honor of Dale and Betty Bumpers.

Former President and First Lady Bill and Hillary Clinton issued a statement that read, “Hillary and I treasured our friendship with Betty Bumpers. From her kitchen table in Charleston to the halls of power in D.C., she was always the same: dignified & down to earth, intelligent & kind, good-hearted & tough minded. Our thoughts and prayers are with her beloved family.”

“Our prayers are with the family of former Arkansas First Lady Betty Bumpers tonight as we learn of her passing. She served our state with distinction and passion,” Gov. Asa Hutchinson said.