Some 300 friends and acquaintances and family joined Hugh B. Patterson Jr. at the Country Club of Little Rock Saturday night for his 90th birthday party.
Wearing his customary dark suit and deep-creased grin, he greeted a steady line of well-wishers, all fortified by an open bar, a huge spread of food and a combo playing standards appropriate to the largely older crowd.
Younger people can be forgiven for asking, Hugh B. Who? After all, he hasn’t been publisher of the old Arkansas Gazette since 1986, when the newspaper was sold to the Gannett Corp. Kids in college today weren’t born when he left the public scene. His family-owned paper could no longer sustain the fight against a better-funded competitor, old-timers will remember. We won’t replay that decision here, or the aftermath and death of the oldest newspaper west of the Mississippi. Still, the publisher insisted on volunteering to old employees such as The Observer — yet again — the whys and the undeniable math.
We needed no explanations. His family’s newspaper, and its proud civil rights legacy, brought The Observer to Little Rock 31 years ago and we haven’t been of a mind to leave since. (Also important, too, was the hospitality of another Little Rock family, the matron of which we escorted to a car after the birthday party ended. Like many of us, PLD is a little unsteady on her feet now, but her graciousness is not a tiny bit diminished.)
It was that kind of party. Familiar face after familiar face, comfortable in themselves and their warm Southern city. There were big business people, judges, government officials, former Gazette employees, grandchildren of the man of honor. It was a time for laughs and memories. Our reflection was that we arrived in Little Rock only a month or so too late to celebrate the 100th birthday of Mr. Patterson’s then father-in-law, the fabled editor J.N. Heiskell, at the same club. Had we arrived in time to shake Mr. Heiskell’s hand, we thought, we could have been a tactile part of three centuries of Little Rock journalism. Some days, though, two seems plenty.
Monday headline on the KUAF-FM website of the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville:
“Rice Tries to Ease Turkey’s Concerns over Kurds”
Our eagle-eyed Ozarks correspondent observes: “Sounds like a Thanksgiving stuffing recipe!” Or a hungry student laboring over a hot radio website.
We’re accustomed to thinking of North Little Rock as the optimistic bank of the river, willing as they are to try, well, goofy ideas like hauling a junky old submarine halfway across the world and establishing a maritime museum 500 miles from the nearest beach.
So a sign we noticed recently along Camp Robinson Road caught us a little off guard.
“Caution!” it warned oncoming traffic.
“Courtesy can be contagious.”
You know, if you’re lucky. And the wind’s blowing in the right direction. And it’s the second Tuesday after the new moon. But don’t get your hopes up.
Speaking of signs, The Observer saw another at a local retail establishment recently. Everything in the store 20 percent off, it read, “including jewry.” They must have sold out before we got there.
LOST TO KITE-EATING TREE: One (1) rainbow-colored nylon kite, diamond-shaped, with multicolored tail. Devoured by tree in Allsop Park. Kite and tree are visible from Cedar Hill Road. Anyone wresting said kite from the tree’s clutches should contact: Round-Headed Kid, c/o The Arkansas Times.
For the record, the spring peepers were singing Monday evening, Feb. 7. The little wooded slough that separates the east and westbound lanes of Chenal Parkway as it passes Parkway Village, an area that the city Parks and Recreation Department has fixed up with a walking trail, was filled with frog song as we drove by. It was serendipitous that we’d rolled down the car window to defog our windshield and could hear the peepers’ happy peeping as their little wetland warmed. Those who snickered at the city for preserving this little park and putting in a trail should roll their windows down and drive by the next available warm evening and wonder at how life can thrive amid combustion engines and asphalt.