2023: Notable Deaths in NWA, Fort Smith metro

by Talk Business & Politics staff ([email protected]) 847 views 

Significant contributors to the Northwest Arkansas and Fort Smith metro business community died in 2023.

Brant Barnes, 43, Jan. 6 — Barnes, an independent insurance agent, real estate investor and entrepreneur, died in a plane crash near Drake Field in Washington County. Barnes was piloting a Beech M35 fixed-wing, single-engine aircraft when it crashed off North Smokey Bear Road southeast of Fayetteville.

Barnes was a Shelter Insurance agent in Fayetteville. He also had real estate holdings and was a Papa John’s restaurant franchisee.

Claude Harris, 93, Feb. 25 — Harris, Walmart Inc.’s first buyer, died at Willard Walker Hospice in Fayetteville. He was a merchant for Woolworths in Memphis in the late 1950s when he met Sam Walton. Walton eventually convinced Harris to come to work for his Ben Franklin franchise. When Walmart began in the early 1960s, Walton asked Harris to start the buying division from scratch.

Harris assumed other executive roles within the company and remained a direct report and personal friend of Walton’s until his retirement after 20 years with the business.

Scott Grigsby, 71, March 23 — Grigsby retired in December 2014 from Arvest Bank as a regional executive. He was also a NorthWest Arkansas Community College board member from 2013 to 2017.

Bill Underwood, 90, April 2 — Underwood, the founder and chairman of family-owned Underwoods Fine Jewelers in downtown Fayetteville, died at his Fayetteville home after a brief battle with cancer. He launched the business on Dec. 27, 1957, on Dickson Street in Fayetteville, where it still resides today.

Bill Underwood

Through the years, Underwood garnered dozens of industry recognitions on a national level. He was elected to the AGS board of directors in 1970, and in 1978 he was one of just 33 jewelers in the U.S. chosen by the Smithsonian Institute to create a unique jewelry piece for the Smithsonian Collection.

In 2004, Underwood was named Entrepreneur of the Year by the Sam M. Walton College of Business, and he received the Citation of Distinguished Alumnus Award in 2019.

Jack Cole, 84, April 11 — In 1970, Cole became chief of police in Rogers. He later organized the initial security and loss prevention department for Walmart Inc. Eventually, he left Walmart and became president and owner of one of the largest vinegar manufacturers in the United States.

In 1975, Cole and his wife Shirley, who was in banking, bought an existing flower shop in Rogers and named it Shirley’s Flowers and Gifts Inc. Their daughter owns and operates the business today.

Cole was Rogers mayor from 1979 to 1981.

Jim Harris, 60, April 25 — Harris retired from the University of Arkansas in 2022 after 22 years at the college. He began his career with the university after working in private practice as a partner in the Rose Law Firm in Little Rock (1987-1997) and with Hall Estill in Fayetteville (1997-2000).

Harris was the associate director of planned giving and then director and counsel of the Office of Planned Giving at the UA. He retired as vice chancellor for University Advancement.

Craig Campbell

Craig Campbell, 72, April 28 — For nearly 40 years, Campbell was a senior partner at Rogers law firm Matthews, Campbell, Rhoads, McClure & Thompson until he retired at the end of 2018.  He died of complications from progressive supranuclear palsy (PSP), a rare neurological disease that has no known cause or cure.

Carl Walker, 66, April 30 — Walker was in the homebuilding business with his brother, Alan Walker, and their father, Ralph Walker. Their company, ARC Construction & Development, built primarily in Benton County. Walker died of complications due to cancer.

Mark Kruger, 75, May 1 — For 35 years, through three different mayors, voters elected Kruger to a spot on the Rogers City Council. He attended his final meeting the week before he died of complications from idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, a terminal lung disease.

Kruger was a retired high school administrator. He worked for the Rogers School District for 38 years before retiring in 2011 as assistant principal. He was also the high school’s first girls volleyball coach and also coached girls basketball and track and boys and girls tennis.

Jim Walcott, 69, May 7 — Walcott, who died after a long battle with cancer, worked for Weldon, Williams & Lick (WW&L), a printing and ticketing company, for 43 years. He was promoted to president and CEO in 1985 and held that job for 32 years until August 2017 when he became executive chairman and continued serving on the board.

Walcott also played a part in creating the Arkansas Colleges of Health Education. He was a board member/officer for numerous civic groups through the years including First National Bank, United Way of Fort Smith and the Fort Smith Regional Chamber of Commerce.

Hoyt Purvis

Hoyt Purvis, 83, May 26 — Purvis taught journalism and international relations at the University of Arkansas from 1982 until his retirement in 2016. Before arriving in Fayetteville, Purvis was the press secretary and special assistant to U.S. Sen. J. William Fulbright. He was also foreign and defense policy adviser to Senate Majority Leader Robert Byrd.

George Clark, 90, June 1 — Clark was a longtime Arkansas banker and past president (1994) of the Arkansas Bankers Association. He lived in Harrison from 1971 to 1991 before moving to Berryville to become CEO and chairman of First National Bank of North Arkansas (now Bank of 1889). He retired in 2013 and moved to Rogers in 2016.

Lloyd Seaton Jr., 94, July 29 — Seaton was dean of what is now known as the Sam M. Walton College of Business at the University of Arkansas from 1983 to 1989.

Richard “Dick” Stockland, 86, Aug. 1 — Stockland had a long career with Tyson Foods. He joined the company in 1968 through its acquisition of Prospect Farms. He initially worked as an accountant and a plant manager. In 1972, he moved to the Springdale headquarters and began working in sales and marketing. He was vice president of sales and marketing in charge of the retail division, then the foodservice division. In the 1980s, he started the club store and international divisions.

After retiring from Tyson Foods, he joined his son, Jim, as a partner in A&D Sales and Marketing, a poultry brokerage.

Patrick Woodruff

Patrick Woodruff, 42, Sept. 10 — Woodruff, a senior vice president at Encore Bank, died in a tragic accident at Pinnacle Country Club in Rogers. He had a medical issue and drowned while retrieving golf balls from a pond. A Rogers native, he had nearly 20 years of banking experience with expertise in commercial lending. Before joining Encore Bank, Woodruff spent seven years working for Bank OZK.

Woodruff was president and co-founder of The Miller McNeil Woodruff Foundation, popularly known as “I’m With Miller.” He and his wife Meredith started the foundation in 2011 after the death of their second-born son, Miller, who was born with spinal muscular atrophy (SMA).

William “Hank” Henderson, 60, Oct. 14 — Henderson died unexpectedly at his home on Beaver Lake. The former CEO of Rogers-based America’s Car-Mart was known for his grinning Southern drawl “drive easy” tagline while appearing for years in the company’s television commercials.

Henderson worked for Car-Mart for 30 years until retiring in December 2017. He was the company’s president for 14 years (2002-2016) and CEO for a decade (2007-2017).

William “Hank” Henderson

Carrie McKnight, 48, Oct. 12 — McKnight built an impressive career as a corporate communications executive in Northwest Arkansas, most recently as a senior director for PwC. She held senior communications and public affairs roles for Walmart Inc. and Sam’s Club for more than 15 years and was also vice president at public relations giant CJRW.

McKnight, a University of North Carolina graduate, started her professional career in Atlanta, then moved to Washington, D.C. where she worked for three years on then-Congressman John Boozman’s staff.

Hugh Higginbotham, 89, Nov. 21— Higginbotham served as a cardiologist in the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War. After his service at Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri, he moved to Fayetteville in 1967 and was the fourth member of the Fayetteville Diagnostic Clinic.

Between 1967 and his initial retirement in 1998, he practiced at the FDC, served multiple terms as the chief of staff at Washington Regional Medical Center, and was the chief of staff of Fayetteville City Hospital.

After a brief retirement from private practice in 1998, Higginbotham served another 14 years to conclude a 60-year medical career.