Fort Smith business and community leader Jim Walcott has died

by Michael Tilley ([email protected]) 1,835 views 

Jim Walcott, a business and community leader who played a part in the creation of the Arkansas Colleges of Health Education, died Sunday (May 7) after a long battle with cancer. He was 69.

Walcott was employed by Fort Smith-based Weldon, Williams & Lick (WW&L) for 43 years, and was president and CEO for 32 of those years, according to information provided by the company. He first worked for the company as a summer employee in 1970, and also worked summers in 1974 and 1975. He became a full-time employee on June 1, 1977 and worked in numerous company roles. He was promoted to president and CEO in 1985 and served in that role for 32 years, until August 2017, at which time he became executive chairman and continued serving on the board.

WW&L, a printing and ticketing company, has been in business since 1898. At one time, about 95% of tickets for the Ringling Brothers Circus were printed by WW&L. The company in the 1920s began printing tickets for professional sports teams when it won a ticket contract with the St. Louis Cardinals.

The company on Monday issued this statement: “It is with great sadness that we announce the passing of our long-time leader and friend, Jim Walcott. For 32 years, Jim led this company through times of tremendous technological change, growth and success. He had a keen intelligence and curiosity, a passion for our industry and an appreciation and respect for the work done every day to take care of our customers. He loved WW&L and missed being here in the middle of it all, guiding and directing this company through its daily challenges and successes. He also loved Fort Smith and made a lasting impact on it, as did his predecessors Chauncey Lick, Cap Lick and Bud Jackson. We all have much to learn from Jim’s life and legacy. We will miss him greatly.”

Following the sale of Sparks Health System in 2009, Walcott is credited with challenging fellow Degen Foundation members to not “nibble around the edges” and instead do something to “move the needle.” That push helped create what is now the Fort Smith-based Arkansas Colleges of Health Education (ACHE). The colleges in the system now employ more than 200 staff and faculty, have more than 700 students on campus and will have around 1,000 students in the different colleges and programs within a few years. The colleges and other programs are generating a $600 million annual economic impact for the region.

“What a wonderful example of a man dedicated to his family and our community. He challenged us to seek a way of ‘moving the needle’ in healthcare care for the betterment of others which resulted in the formation of the Arkansas Colleges of Health Education,” said ACHE President and CEO Kyle Parker.

Bill Hanna, owner of Fort Smith-based Hanna Oil & Gas, said Walcott never sought praise or credit for his community leadership.

“A humble man, and devoted friend. He will be missed,” Hanna said.

Walcott earned a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering from the University of Mississippi, and was a member and officer of Sigma Alpha Epsilon. After graduation in 1975, he was employed by the U.S. Naval Oceanographic Office. His career at Fort Smith-based Weldon, Williams & Lick Inc. began in 1977, and he would eventually become CEO and chairman.

He served as a board member/officer of the Fort Smith Girls Club, Harbor House Inc., Manufacturing Executive Association, Partners in Education, Westark Workforce Leadership, Young Printing Presidents Organization, United Way of Smith, Fort Smith Regional Chamber of Commerce, Associated Industries of Arkansas, Community Rescue Mission, Sparks Health System, University of Arkansas at Fort Smith Foundation, Harbor House Foundation Inc., University of Arkansas at Fort Smith Family Enterprise Center Peer Group 1, Fort Smith Regional Council, St. John’s Episcopal Church Vestry, Degen Foundation, Bruce Rogers Inc., and First National Bank.

He is survived by Jane, his wife of 42 years, daughter Jennifer Goldstein (Ian) of Denver, and son Dexter (Cora Currier) of Los Angeles, and three grandsons, Noah, Max and Chama. He also is survived by sister Annis Cox (Bill) of Columbus, Miss., and brother Mac (Gina) of Fairhope, Ala.

A memorial celebration has been set for 10 a.m., Friday, May 12, at St. John’s Episcopal Church, 215 N. 6th St., Fort Smith.

In lieu of flowers, memorials may be given to St. John’s Sack Lunch program, Harbor House Inc. Building Renovation and Maintenance, or UAFS Foundation. The family said that in keeping with Walcott’s ongoing efforts to help others and improve the community he has donated his body to the ACHE Anatomical Program.