My lunch with. . .

While having lunch Tuesday at the Governor’s Mansion with more than 200 of my closest friends (I was attending the Political Animals Club meeting), a question popped into my mind.

If I could have lunch every Friday with any living Arkansan — family members excluded — which Arkansan would I choose?

Remember, it’s every week. This should not be someone whose stories would quickly grow old. This should not be someone you would not still be happy to see after a few months.

As I looked around the Grand Hall of the Governor’s Mansion at so many people I know, I suddenly spotted the person I would choose: former Sen. David Pryor.

Through the years, I have discovered that I never tire of Sen. Pryor’s stories — the political campaigns he has run, the colorful Arkansans he has met, the restaurants in which he has eaten, the many interesting events he was part of as a young newspaper editor, congressman, governor and senator.

The highlight of this year’s Arkansas Historical Association meeting in Magnolia was Pryor’s talk on the fight to prevent the Strawberry River from being dammed.

For four years, I covered Washington for the Arkansas Democrat. Due to the heated competition with the Gazette at that time, I felt it necessary each working day to actually stop by the offices of every member of the Arkansas congressional delegation — Sen. Pryor, Sen. Dale Bumpers, Rep. Bill Alexander, Rep. Tommy Robinson, Rep. John Paul Hammerschmidt and Rep. Beryl Anthony Jr.

There were many days when Sen. Pryor’s secretary, Leslie, would say: “The senator heard you were out here and said to tell you to come on in.”

“Oh, I don’t need quotes for any stories right now,” I would say.

“Go on in anyway,” Leslie would respond.

Those were the best days — days that were not rushed, days when I could declare ourselves off the record and listen to the great DP stories. Occasionally, he would say during an afternoon visit: “Let’s go down to the Senate Dining Room and get an ol’ bowl of ice cream.”

If you have never eaten with a senator in the Senate Dining Room, you do not know the meaning of good service.

David Pyor can even make a heart attack funny. Literally.

He tells the story of being rushed in an ambulance from his home near DuPont Circle in Washington to the hospital following his heart attack.

“Everything in Washington is paperwork,” he says. “Even as I was in the back of that ambulance, they were asking me questions and filling out a form.”

“Do you smoke?” the ambulance attendant asked as he continued to fill out the form.

“I used to smoke, but I quit,” Sen. Pryor answered.

“When did you quit?”

“About 20 minutes ago.”

Simply shaking David Pryor’s hand and saying hello, as I did yesterday after lunch, brightens my day.

The floor is yours. If you could have lunch with any living Arkansan every Friday, which Arkansan would you choose?

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10 Responses to “My lunch with. . .”

  1. Will Watson says:

    As soon as I saw the title of this post, I thought to myself, “This is going to be about David Pryor” – mostly because he’s the Arkansan that I would pick as well.

    As a senior in college in Fayetteville, I had the privilege of taking Sen. Pryor’s course at the U of A in the Fall semester of last year, and I quickly learned to appreciate the lively and entertaining kind of storyteller dialogue that you reference in the post. Running into the former Senator and his wonderful wife, Barbara, at the Fayetteville Farmers’ Market this past Saturday brightened my day as well. They are genuine Arkansas treasures.

  2. Bluedog says:

    I think I would probably choose Charles Portis. Anybody that can write “True Grit” and “Dog of the South” probably has more than a few stories in him to tell.

  3. John Whiteside says:

    Suspending the time-space continuum would be crucial to fulfill my dream lunch…

    But I think it would either be at Craig’s with a banana cream pie from the pie shop for dessert, in the real backroom with Porterhouses at Doe’s in Little Rock or eating a BIG Rib sandwich with lots of the vinegary hot bbq sauce and slaw at (contrary to popular belief) the best BBQ joint in the state: Bubba’s in Eureka Springs…

    Table for 8, with Johnny Cash, myself, Levon Helm, Joe T. Robinson, J.W. Fulbright, Dizzy Dean, David Pryor, and I’m sure Billy Clinton would show up late…

    Hattie Caraway could come as well as long as she brought Huey Long with her

    Nevermind, let’s make it a table for 20 with Harvey Couch, Wilbur Mills & Fanne Fox in tow, Dale Bumpers, John Little McClellan, Gene Lyons… throw in Ben Nichols, Todd Day, Alex Dillard and David Gordon Green just so we could have some young celebs to gives us an advantage when we hit the bars in Fayetteville later that night.

  4. John Whiteside says:

    I guess I will follow the rules…

    If I had only one living Arkansan, no question it would be Levon Helm.

    I love David Pryor and he may be the greatest storyteller I have ever had the privilege of riding around the state with and listening to the extraordinary stories he seems to have for every single town we passed through…

    BUT there is only so much fun you can have as a politician, the tales Levon could tell from the House at Big Pink alone would keep me enthralled for a decade or so

  5. CC Waterback says:

    Why, Rex, it would be you, of course. A close second would be Glenn Campbell when he’s been on a two week drunk.

  6. Considering I was sitting at Rex’s table on Tuesday, I am stunned – STUNNED! Rex must have taken one look around the table and thought, why am I sitting with these losers? Who would I rather be having lunch with? Oh, hey there’s David Pryor over at the head table. Man, why am I not sitting over there instead of here with Tolbert and his dorky flip cam.

  7. At PAC on Tuesday, I had the chance to sit next to Lynda Dixon, President Clinton’s longtime secretary, who’s now nearing retirement from the Clinton Foundation. I bet she has some good stories to tell.

  8. Boots says:

    Bill Clinton. Period. End of Statement.

  9. Ann Nicholas says:

    Dale Bumpers. Definately.
    Perhaps Bill Clinton could scoot his chair over & visit with us now & then.

  10. Jason says:

    Having only lived here since 1996 my familiarity with some of the older names is limited. For a full table I think I would want Tommy Smith, Bill Clinton and Frank Broyles. For a table for two, I think it would have to be you Rex. I can’t see a better way to catch up on years of geographic, historic and political knowledge of the last 50 years in this state than a once a week lesson from the master.

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