They used to call Louis Ramsay “Mr. Pine Bluff.”
He could just as easily have been called “Mr. Arkansas.”
Mr. Ramsay, who died in January 2004 at the age of 85, was a remarkable Arkansan. He was the only person in Arkansas history to have served as president of both the Arkansas Bankers Association and the Arkansas Bar Association. He was elected president of Simmons First National Bank in 1970 and served as chairman and chief executive officer from 1973-83. He helped make Simmons the statewide banking powerhouse it is today.
Mr. Ramsay was also a chairman of Arkansas Blue Cross & Blue Shield and served from 1971-81 on the University of Arkansas Board of Trustees. I could go on — chairman of the University of Arkansas Foundation, chairman of the Arkansas Science and Technology Authority, head of the 1986 Arkansas Sesquicentennial Celebration Commission.
He had been a Razorback quarterback in 1940 and 1941, earned medals for air combat service during World War II, joined the Pine Bluff law firm of Coleman & Gantt after graduation from law shcool and became a partner after only one year.
You get the point.
His daughter, Joy Blankenship, has long led downtown revitalization efforts in Pine Bluff.
Joy’s son, Drew Blankenship, is now an attorney for the state Department of Education. Drew is married to Pine Bluff native Ginny Blankenship, the research and fiscal policy director for Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families.
And Ginny, in her spare time away from work, is now leading the kind of effort that Louis Ramsay would have taken on were he still with us.
A bit of background: Those who have followed education reform in this state are aware of the amazing job the KIPP Delta College Preparatory School has done in Helena-West Helena. Scott Shirey, who has nursed the KIPP School since birth, is now hoping to expand the charter school concept across the Delta.
A request for proposals has been issued to open a second KIPP school in Pine Bluff, Blytheville or West Memphis. With state Sen. Steve Bryles going to bat for for Blytheville, Ginny decided to lead the effort for Pine Bluff. It’s a friendly competition. Bryles, one of the state’s better legislators, wants to eventually see KIPP schools in all three Delta cities. So does Shirey.
But where will the next one go?
“I am trying to build a coalition of as many people as possible who want to see this school come to Pine Bluff,” Ginny told me Friday over breakfast at the Ozark Family Restaurant in Little Rock (I guess we should have been at Sno-White in Pine Bluff).
KIPP has a nationwide network of 82 public charter schools with a track record of getting minority children from low-income families into college. In a state where 36 percent of black children never graduate from high school, KIPP offers hope.
In 2008, 86 percent of the KIPP students in the eighth grade at Helena-West Helena scored proficient or advanced on the state benchmark exam in math. That compared to 23 percent in the Helena-West Helena School District. I could provide many similar statistics.
In Pine Bluff, which has been bleeding population in recent years, that are at least two former school facilities that could be used for a KIPP school
“This would be an amazing opportunity to bring new life to Pine Bluff and give hundreds of kids a chance at a better life,” Ginny said.
Ginny, though, needs help from those who live in Central Arkansas and Southeast Arkansas. Go to http://vhblankenship.googlepages.com/coalitiontobringkipptopinebluff to learn more. She can’t do it alone.
Ginny, a 1994 graduate of Pine Bluff High School, needs your support. So do the kids in Pine Bluff.