It was among the best writing assignments I’ve had in a long time.
A couple of months ago, Roby Brock called to ask if I would be interested in doing a cover story for TBQ magazine about Archie Schaffer III of Tyson Foods.
I jumped at the opportunity to write about one of my favorite Arkansans.
Grab a copy of the new issue of TBQ and tell me what you think.
Later this month, Archie’s retirement from Tyson Foods will become official, though he will continue to serve as a consultant for the company. On Friday from 4:30 p.m. until 7:30 p.m. at Arvest Ballpark, the Springdale Chamber of Commerce will sponsor an event known as “Chicken, Peelin’ and Politickin'” with Schaffer as the guest of honor.
More than 1,000 people are expected to show up to eat chicken jambalaya while peeling boiled shrimp and crawfish.
Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Paul Greenberg once described Archie as “everybody’s favorite Arkansas lobbyist.”
Greenberg wrote: “Even when arguing with him over some petty political matter, I’ve always found him candid, convivial, convinced — the way everybody in politics should be.
“Okay, maybe a little cantankerous on occasion, but who isn’t? I certainly am. If curmudgeonhood were a crime, who should ‘scape whipping? Life would be so much poorer without its Menckens or even Carvilles. And certainly without its Archie Schaffers.”
As I wrote in a recent newspaper column, one of the nice things about this story assignment was that it gave me the opportunity to spend a long lunch with his aunt and uncle, Dale and Betty Bumpers.
I kidded Archie later by saying, “We spent about 10 minutes talking about you and the next two hours telling political war stories.”
If I make it to age 87, I hope I’m doing half as well as Sen. and Mrs. Bumpers are doing at that age. We actually spent a lot more than 10 minutes talking about Archie, who the Bumpers call “Spike.”
A Franklin County family tree probably is in order at this point.
Elizabeth Callan Flanagan Bumpers — that would be Betty — was born Jan. 11, 1925, to Herman Flanagan and Ola Callan Flanagan in the Franklin County community of Grand Prairie. The family moved to Fort Smith during World War II and later to Iowa before returning to Franklin County. Betty Bumpers attended both the Chicago Academy of Fine Art and the University of Iowa.
Dale Leon Bumpers was born Aug. 12, 1925, in Charleston. He was one of four children born to William Rufus and Lattie Jones Bumpers. His father began working for the Charleston Hardware & Funeral Home beginning in 1924 and bought the business along with a partner in 1937.
Betty’s older sister, Maggie, was Archie’s mother.
Betty and Dale dated during their senior year in high school but were separated for a time after that. Dale briefly attended the University of Arkansas and then joined the U.S. Marines. He was on a ship headed for the Pacific theater when World War II ended. He was discharged from the Marines in July 1946 and graduated two years later from the University of Arkansas with a degree in political science.
While attending law school at Northwestern University, Dale received word in March 1949 that both of his parents had been killed in a car crash.
On Sept. 4, 1949, he married Betty, who had been teaching the fifth grade.
After Dale graduated from law school, the couple returned to Charleston. Dale took over his father’s store, which he owned until 1966, while also practicing law. Betty continued to teach school.
Archie’s dad, Archibald Schaffer II, had come to Arkansas in the early 1940s for Army basic training at Fort Chaffee. He met Maggie while in Arkansas. The couple married in 1944, and Archie III was born in January 1948.
Archie’s father, who was in the Army Reserves, later was reactivated to serve in Korea.
“From a young age, Archie was always there for anyone, dating back to when his father went to Korea,” Betty Bumpers said. “He was responsible for looking out for his two younger brothers, and he often watched our three children. He just had this incredible sense of responsibility from a very young age.”
Former Sen. David Pryor is just as big a fan of Archie as is Dale Bumpers. Schaffer chairs the board of the David and Barbara Pryor Center for Arkansas Oral and Visual History at the University of Arkansas.
“There is no one who listens more effectively to people than Archie Schaffer,” David Pryor said. “He’s a walking sponge, soaking up Arkansas history and politics. He just absorbs information and then uses it in a wise way.”
Pryor said people often come to Archie for advice “because they trust him. They know he’s someone they can confide in. When he speaks, it’s always in measured tones. He exudes confidence. Archie is imbued with wisdom.”
The former senator was quick to note that Archie is also a fun person to be around.
“I can’t think of many people I’d rather be with,” Pryor said. “Everybody loves Archie. He’s just one of those people everybody considers a friend. Because of that, everybody asks him to serve, and he often says ‘yes.’ He has 20 balls in the air at any one time.”
Archie, whose official title at Tyson Foods is executive vice president for corporate affairs, is further described by Pryor as the “eyes and ears of that company. I can’t imagine that John Tyson will let him go too far.”
During our lunch, Dale Bumpers related numerous tales of how Archie could calm people down, turning enemies into friends. Bumpers remembered one incident during his 1974 Democratic primary campaign against U.S. Sen. J. William Fulbright when an angry man stormed into the campaign headquarters.
“Richard Arnold tried to reason with him, and the man just kept getting madder,” Bumpers said. “Then Archie came out of his office. After Archie spent about three minutes with him, everything was fine.”
Martha Perry, a longtime, Bumpers aide, said Archie was invaluable because “he was family. He was the kind of guy who could tell Dale when he had spinach between his teeth.”
Archie thought he had retired from working in politics when in 1985 rumors began to fly that then-Gov. Bill Clinton was thinking about challenging Bumpers in the 1986 Senate primary.
“There were people encouraging him to run against me, and I know he was taking polls,” Bumpers said.
It came as no surprise when Bumpers asked Archie to go to Little Rock and make sure Clinton ran for re-election as governor rather than seeking the Senate seat.
My favorite quote in the TBQ story was this one from Archie: “My job was to raise lots of money and scare Clinton off. We were successful in doing that.”
You know what they say: Bill Clinton became president because he couldn’t figure out a way to beat Dale Bumpers or David Pryor and become senator.
Scahffer took the job with Tyson Foods in 1991.
Most of those who followed Arkansas politics and public affairs during the 1990s are well aware that on Jan. 15, 1998, Archie was indicted by a federal grand jury on seven felony charges for allegedly providing illegal gifts to then-U.S. Agriculture Secretary Mike Espy. Jack Williams, a Washington lobbyist for Tyson Foods, was charged at the same time following an investigation by an overzealous independent counsel named Donald Smaltz. Don Tyson, John Tyson, Tyson Foods and the Tyson Foundation were named as unindicted co-conspirators.
“People thought Archie was being singled out unfairly,” said Gov. Mike Beebe, who has known Archie since they were both students at Arkansas State University in Jonesboro.
Soon after the indictment, Archie told Arkansas Business: “I’m not really sure why they have chosen to come after me. It has been suggested to me that my political history and my ties to a well-known Democratic senator like Dale Bumpers and a Whitwater figure like my wife (Beverly Bassett Schaffer, who served as state securities commissioner in the 1980s) might have something to do with it, but I choose not to speculate about that.”
Schaffer had been quoted when various investigations involving the Clinton administration began that Clinton’s election as president was “one of the worst things that ever happened to Tyson Foods and the state of Arkansas.”
He later told Arkansas Business: “Throwing the state of Arkansas in there may have been an overstatement, but I still think it’s the worst thing that ever happened to Tyson Foods. Were it not for all the extraneous issues such as the perceived Tyson-Clinton connection and the Espy investigation and all of those issues, I think my job would be great. I still believe strongly that Tyson Foods is a great company. Once we get all the extraneous nonsense behind us, I think the job can be what I thought it could be … when I first came here. I have no plan to do anything different. The company has said they fullysupport me. Obviously, I’m going to be somewhat distracted for the next few months, but I have no plans to leave the company.”
Long story short, a jury later found Schaffer guilty only of violating an obscure 1907 law known as the Meat Inspection Act, along with the federal gratuity statute. A federal court overturned that verdict, but in July 1999 a three-judge panel reinstated the Meat Inspection Act conviction, which carried a mandatory one-year prison sentence.
In October 2000, U.S. District Judge James Robertson reluctantly sentenced Schaffer to a year in prison. The judge made clear at the time that he believed Schaffer deserved only probation and a fine but said he was required by the 93-year-old law to impose the prison sentence.
During his final weeks as president, Clinton pardoned Schaffer.
“I did not see it coming,” Archie later told me. “I guess I was naive about what might end up happening. I was probably a bit overaggressive in my public statements about the investigation, which led to me being the primary target.”
He admitted that the months between the initial indictment and the pardon were “difficult. One of the things that made it even more difficult was that my wife was being written and talked about in the media each day. We used to joke that we were the only household in American being investigated by two different independent counsels at the same time.”
As securities commissioner, Beverly Bassett Schaffer had dealt with Jim McDougal’s Madison Guaranty Savings & Loan, a key part of the Whitewater investigation.
“The company was very supportive and continued to pay my legal fees or I would have never made it,” Archie said.
He said the trial judge realized that the charges against him “were a farce.”
When he later was sentenced under the Meat Inspection Act, the judge set a January reporting date, allowing for Clinton to issue a pardon just before leaving office.
In November 2000, Archie was deer hunting in south Texas with Little Rock businessman Craig Campbell (son-in-law of the late Witt Stephens) when his cell phone rang. It was someone from the Federal Bureau of Prisons telling him he had two weeks to report to a federal prison in El Reno, Okla.
“I explained to the person on the other end of the line that the judge had given me until January to report,” Archie said. “I suggested that they get a copy of the judge’s order.”
Arkansas Republicans and Democrats alike called the White House to ask Clinton to pardon Archie. A group of friends who hung out each afternoon at Uncle Gaylord’s in Fayetteville came up with the idea of the “Free Archie” bumper stickers, which at one time could be spotted on cars and trucks in all parts of the state.
After the pardon, Tyson Foods moved aggressively into the beef and pork sectors in addition to poultry, becoming almost three times as big as it had been. So it’s not as if life slowed down for Archie.
He doesn’t think so.
Running for office?
He was a constitutional convention delegate once and served for five years on the Charleston School Board in the early 1980s after having returned home from Washington.
Again, though, there are no such plans.
“I have a great deal of appreciation for those willing to put their names on the ballot, but I’ve decided that’s not something I want to do again,” Archie said.
In addition to being on the Pryor Center board, he serves on boards for the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute, the Nature Conservancy, the University of Arkansas Foundation and the Jones Center at Springdale. Those board assignments, along with more time spent with his three grown children and three grandchildren, should keep him busy for now.
“I think I’ll take a few months to decide what the next stage in my life will be,” Archie said.
With friends in all 75 counties, the options are many.