Columns » John Brummett

A word for Win Paul

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A word kept coming back to me Sunday morning as I pondered Win Paul Rockefeller. Yet I hesitated to write it. I dared not appear critical even in any unintended way.

That wasn’t simply because he had just died entirely too young, at 57, in the very year he had been intending to get elected governor so that he could walk in his late dad’s historic footsteps.

It was because, as I’d written before, this was a “powerfully good man.” I didn’t want a poorly chosen word to leave a different or lesser impression.

So, I looked up “naive.” The dictionary said it meant “marked by unaffected simplicity.”

Yes, that applies, though “unassuming” might get the job done with less chance of being misunderstood. I could always use three words: “utterly without guile.”

Win Paul — or simply Win, as he became as he grew older — was a billionaire by birth. He could have gone anywhere and done anything. He chose to live just up the street in Hillcrest. He put his kids in public schools. He opted for public service eventually as lieutenant governor, but first on the Arkansas State Police Commission. He thoroughly loved the cars and the gadgetry and the idea of working for the good guys against the bad. He devoted himself to the Boy Scouts and would adorn himself with what looked like hundreds of keys dangling from his belt. He championed developmentally disabled children, of which he had two in his family of eight kids.

Years ago his friend Brenda Fulkerson would invite him, the late radio expert Pat Walsh and a few politicos for lunch and an afternoon’s conversation at her husband Floyd’s family place in Scott. We’d sit on the screened porch, then eat, then reassemble on the porch.

I remember Win Paul’s frequent, proud and loving references on those occasions to “Dad,” whose uncommon bravery opposing the death penalty might have posed a worrisome association in the modern political context for another son, but never this one.

He was always clearing the table and fetching coffee. A working man’s kid from Southwest Little Rock getting served by a Rockefeller: Some would say that could only happen in America. I’m thinking it could only happen in Arkansas.

When Bill Clinton regained the governorship in 1983, Win Paul, ever bipartisan, asked him if there was anything he could do to help. Clinton was in the throes of a legislative brouhaha over raising truck weight limits. Reflecting his weariness, and not serious, Clinton said, “Yeah, you could solve this truck weight thing for me.”

A few days later Clinton’s office got a call from the highway director, the late Henry Gray, who reported that Win Paul had just been in his office intending to try to negotiate a truck weight solution by special gubernatorial dispatch.

Naive? I guess. Utterly without guile? You bet. Unassuming? Not this time, actually. Endearing, sincere, wholly good and decent? Always.

Actually, there’s a second definition of naive: “deficient in worldly wisdom or informed judgment.” So, no, the word won’t do at all.

Was it deficient in worldly wisdom or informed judgment to adore his brave and historic father and seek to walk in those footsteps? Or to devote himself to Boy Scouts and disadvantaged children? Or to try his dead level best, and almost succeed at times, to be as regular a guy as possible?

This man was as wise as Solomon in his way.

His dad left a powerful legacy. Now Win Paul leaves one, too.

Arkansas Rockefellers — we’d not be the same without them. Long may they grace us, long may they thrive.


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