Remembering Mr. Jack

There’s a great article in Forbes on Little Rock’s Stephens Inc. and how well the company is doing despite the current recession. It tells how Stephens Inc. has increased from 84 to 100 investment bankers in the past year and “aims to double its roster of retail brokers to 200 and hire more analysts and portfolio managers.”

It also recounts how the company has gone from 13 employees to 300 employees in its insurance division the past three years.

It’s good publicity for Little Rock and for Arkansas as a whole. There’s a nice photo of Warren Stephens with the caption: “No leverage, no problems.”

It’s also good for Arkansas when people across the country can hear about the Stephens brothers who founded the company, Mr. Witt and Mr. Jack.

My wife and I were married in October 1989 and moved from Washington, D.C., to Little Rock at that time. I was involved with Mr. Jack in a political exercise. And my wife, who had never even visited Arkansas until earlier that year, was hired to be part of Mr. Jack’s small personal staff on the third floor of the old Stephens Inc. building at Capitol and Scott across from what’s now the offices of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. Mr. Witt’s offices were on the second floor.

What a wonderful experience for both of us. While quieter and less public than his older brother, Mr. Jack was one of the smartest, kindest men I’ve ever met. I was only 30 years old at the time. To be able to duck hunt with him, fly several places with him and even drive his brown Mercedes to Brinkley on one occasion was the experience of a lifetime for a guy from Arkadelphia.

People know of the Jack Stephens Center at UALR, the Jack Stephens Spine and Neurosciences Institute at UAMS, the Jack Stephens campus of the Episcopal Collegiate School and the many other world-class facilities he helped fund. But too few know of his keen wit and sense of humor.

My wife was most nervous when she would have to sit at the desk of Mr. Jack’s long-time secretary while the secretary went to lunch. That’s because invariably, in those pre-Internet days, Mr. Stephens would call during that hour and ask: “How’s the market doing?”

Looking up the answer would make my wife sweat bullets, though Mr. Jack was always patient. The payoff for sitting at the desk for an hour would be getting anything left over from Mr. Witt’s famed luncheons downstairs, including the dripping-in-butter Stephens cornbread.

Speaking of cornbread, Warren Stephens’ most recent great contribution to this city would have to be bringing Lee Richardson up from New Orleans to serve as the chef at the Capital Hotel. Lee was a James Beard Foundation finalist this year for best chef in the South.

If you haven’t tried his cooking at either Ashley’s or the Capital Bar & Grill, you’re missing out on some of the best food this state has to offer. We might lose Bobby Petrino from this state one of these days, but by all means don’t let anyone steal Lee Richardson. Good chefs are harder to find than good football coaches.

By the way, the prices at both of the hotel’s dining venues are surprisingly reasonable for the quality of food offered.

I love the fact that the Capital Bar & Grill still keeps the table reserved where Mr. Jack would hang out prior to his death. And knowing that he liked to eat a cheeseburger every night for supper, I can tell you that Lee and his staff serve one heck of a cheeseburger. Warren, your dad would be proud.

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