Fort Smith businessman and community leader Larry Clark died Sunday (Sept. 13). He was 77. He’s credited with leaving a legacy of professionalism in the business community and expanding the regional rodeo and fair footprint and impact.
Clark was born Nov. 20, 1942, in Fayetteville, to Roland R. Clark and Bonnie Clark Bradley. He grew up in Eureka Springs, where his father was the owner of Clark’s Market, then the only grocery store in town.
According to his obituary, he was president and salutatorian of his high school senior class and attended Arkansas Boys State. In 1962, he married Sandra Weems, and after graduating from the University of Arkansas in 1964, he was hired by the Fayetteville Chamber of Commerce. In 1965 he accepted a job as assistant manager of the Fort Smith Chamber of Commerce where he helped recruit many of Fort Smith’s largest employers. In 1972 he entered the insurance business with his friend Sam Hiller.
“Together, they created Brown-Hiller-Clark & Associates, one of the largest insurance agencies in Arkansas, which is now known as BHC Insurance,” noted the obituary.
His community work included:
• past chairman Fort Smith Chamber of Commerce;
• former chairman and Board of Trustees for 18 years for the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith (Westark Community College);
• on the board 30 years with the Arkansas Oklahoma Regional Education and Promotion Association (Rodeo/Fair board), with many of those as chairman;
• former Fort Smith City Board of Directors;
• president Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce Executives;
• past president of the Professional Insurance Agents of Arkansas; and
• former Board of Trustees member of First United Methodist Church.
In 2016, he received the Arkansas insurance industry’s’ highest award as an inductee in the 2nd ever class of the Arkansas Insurance Hall of Fame.
“One of Larry’s favorite volunteer activities was his 30-plus year involvement on the entertainment committee of the Arkansas-Oklahoma State Fair and the camaraderie shared with his fellow committee members. In his role, he was responsible for booking top music talent for the Fair for decades, including Garth Brooks, George Strait (6 times), Alabama (6 times), Toby Keith, Brooks & Dunn, Barbara Mandrell, Alan Jackson, and just about every other rising country music star for a generation,” according to the obit.
Fred Williams, with Williams/Crawford & Associates advertising firm in Fort Smith, said the agency handled BHC’s advertising business for about 30 years, and Clark “was always good and fair and honest with me, in all of our dealings.” Williams said they also visited every week at church up until Clark was no longer able to attend.
“He had a dry sense of humor, and we had so much fun at church every Sunday. He’d say, ‘Well, do you want me to preach on sin?’ And I’d say, ‘Yes.’ And he’d say, ‘Well, I’m against it,’” Williams recalled.
Williams stressed that Clark was wise underneath his “character of a personality” and all the wisecracking.
“And he had that grin like he was up to something. And he usually was, but you didn’t know what. But he was a smart, smart man … and spent so many years working with the fair board. He was just a really good man for this community,” Williams said.
Sam Sicard, president and CEO of First National Bank and the holding company that now owns BHC, said he has heard many stories of Clark’s impact on the community, adding, “I’m sure we’re still receiving the dividends of his efforts to recruit industry to Fort Smith.” Sicard said Clark, along with his business partner Sam Hiller, was successful because of “the professionalism they used in providing insurance to businesses.”
“That was really built on Larry’s legacy, of not only his professional and his networking skills, but that he was extremely knowledgeable about the business. He seemed to know more than anyone else in the room,” Sicard said.
Billy Dooly, who was president of the Fort Smith Chamber of Commerce during many of the years Clark served as chair of the Rodeo/Fair Board, said Clark was “instrumental” in expanding facilities at the rodeo/fairgrounds and took care of all the insurance for the various rodeo and fair operations. Dooly said Clark, who worked with a company in Nashville to book music talent for the state fair, had a knack for bringing in acts that were on the rise, and “was smart enough to book them for a few years out” so they would come back after they were a bigger concert draw.
“He was very much in control there (with the rodeo/fair board). … He was very loyal to it, and took a lot of pride in it. His forte was in really bringing the big concerts together (for the fair), and getting that going,” Dooly said.
Clark was preceded in death by his mother and father, as well as his step-father, Wayne Bradley. He is survived by his wife of 58 years, Sandra Clark of the home; his son Scott Clark (Deborah) of Fort Smith; his son Marty Clark (Gina) of Fort Smith; his sister Sheila Bunch (Terry) of Eureka Springs; as well as four grandchildren, Ashton, Braden, Paxton and Hudson Clark.
A public viewing will be held on Thursday, Sept. 17 at Edwards Funeral Home at 201 N. 12th St., in Fort Smith from noon to 7 p.m. and on Friday, Sept. 18 from 8 a.m. to noon. A graveside funeral service for family and friends will be held at Roselawn Cemetery 5403 N. O St., in Fort Smith at 2 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 18. In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions can be made to the Fort Smith Boys Shelter at 5904 Zero St.; Fort Smith, 72903 or First United Methodist Church at 200 N. 15th St.; Fort Smith, 72901.