a retired newspaperman and former speech writer for Winthrop Rockefeller,
died Thursday at the age of 86. Funeral arrangements will be announced by Griffin Leggett Healey and Roth.
Allbright worked for the Arkansas Gazette from 1955 until 1966, when he joined the Winthrop Rockefeller campaign for governor, Rockefeller's first victory. He wrote speeches for the governor and stayed on his staff after his defeat by Dale Bumpers in 1970. He told an interviewer that he brought Rockefeller's ashes back to Arkansas after his death in 1973.
Allbright then went back to work at the Gazette, as a general assignment reporter, and also a Sunday city editor, where his tasks included overseeing a young Max Brantley. We all marveled at his ability to inject bright color into the most mundane of assignments — a Shrine convention stands out in my mind. Before long, he became the newspaper's Arkansas Traveler columnist and built a huge audience that fed him stories about their lives that he sharpened into gold.
He traveled the state, too, looking for uniquely Arkansas characters — a collector of books in Southeast Arkansas and a memorable drummer at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff come to my mind.
He also put together a lasting project — a book of Arkansas Gazette photography still available at used bookstores. His eye and the value of his captions added immeasurably to the work. Like all the great columnists I've known, he worried over every word. He bled on the page. 'I have never turned anything loose that I wouldn’t like a little more time with," he said in an interview.
After the Gazette closed in 1991, Allbright was hired by the surviving Arkansas Democrat-Gazette to continue his Arkansas Traveler column. The newspaper retired him in 2004.
Allbright was born in Mississippi and spent some early years in southeast Arkansas, when his parents taught at UA-Monticello. He graduated from Little Rock Central and attended the University of Arkansas, where he remembered times listening to Charlie Rich play a frat house piano.
After a brief time at the Arkansas Democrat and a stint in the Army, he went to work at the Gazette and became the Our Town columnist in 1956. He was a columnist for most of the rest of his career, except for the time with Rockefeller. But he was called to write editorials at the Gazette for a couple of years, which he speaks of memorably as a poor fit for him in the interview he did with Michael Haddigan for the Gazette oral history project.
Also, the UCA Archives has a collection
of Allbright material that fans might find interesting.
He was kind, soft-spoken and patient in my association and a font of stories about his time with Rockefeller, from sometimes humorous mishaps to the deadly serious business of the governor's decision to commute the sentences of all the men on Death Row as a final act of office. He saw the world with Rockefeller. One good story in the Haddigan interview is about Dwight Eisenhower grilling steaks for Rockefeller and Allbright, right on the coals.
UPDATE: Jimmy Bryant, who runs the UCA archives, sent along this photo taken by Russ Hancock when Allbright and Richard Allin, the Our Town columnist retired by the Democrat-Gazette along with Allbright at the beginning of 2004, donated their papers to UCA.