DIANE DIVERS BLAIR: Educator, Political Scientist and Author.
Her parents, both lawyers, moved to the nation's capital in the 1930s to work in the Roosevelt Administration. When it was time for Blair to attend college, she followed her older sister to Miami University of Ohio, but transferred to Cornell University in 1955.
She majored in government and intended to go to law school, but after college she returned to D.C. to work on the Hill, writing foreign policy speeches for Sen. Stuart Symington of Missouri. She met and married Hugh Kincaid and moved to Fayetteville, Ark., at that time a small college town far removed from her East Coast roots.
She sought a job at the University of Arkansas, and during the application process, she was asked if she had her husband's permission to work there. "She never got over that," said her second husband, Jim Blair. "She was outraged by that, and also by the discrepancy of pay between men and women that did the same job. She was a firm believer that government would work better and be better off if more women were in there running things."
Blair also strongly believed that every citizen had a civic duty to participate in the political process, said her son, Bill Kincaid. "Being actively involved was vitally important to her," he said. "Being willing to go out and advocate for candidates and ideas, to campaign, and to share your views."
She began teaching political science at the University of Arkansas. Having a master's degree, but not a doctorate, she worked tirelessly to assemble an extraordinary publication record to attain tenure. By this time, she and Hugh Kincaid had two children, Kathryn and Bill. In the midst of being a busy working mother, she authored "an incredible amount of published work," Blair said. Much of her writing focused on gender issues.
Bill Kincaid recalls that Blair "would always read the morning paper and react to what she saw in the headlines, and that would lead to great discussions." Further, in an era before the Internet, "she was also adamant about watching the evening news," to which she added her own energetic and knowledgeable commentary.
Diane Blair's daughter, Kathryn Jong, recalls how her mother always stood up for equality and pointed out examples of strong women in the world. "In that way she always made it clear she believed women were equal to men and should be treated as such," Jong said. "Her commitment to women's rights was unwavering. Her efforts to get the Equal Rights Amendment passed made a lasting impression on me."
Blair was a passionate teacher and mentor for a generation of University of Arkansas students. She taught classes in American National Government, State and Local Government, Politics in Literature, and Arkansas Politics, regularly inviting elected officials from both parties as guest speakers. She was always prepared and wanted each lecture to engage her students. One night, a natural gas pipeline fire occurred in her neighborhood. As the Blairs evacuated, Diane paused just long enough to grab her children, their dogs, and her lecture notes. She was often voted a favorite teacher in student polls, and in 1982, Blair won the J. William Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences Master Teacher Award. Always interested in women in politics, her first book, Silent Hattie Speaks: The Personal Journal of Senator Hattie Caraway, was based on the journals of the first woman to be elected to a U.S. Senate seat. Her second book, Arkansas Politics and Government: Do the People Rule?, was published in 1988, and now serves as a textbook in many universities.
In addition to her books, Blair published numerous scholarly articles. "The Southern Political Science Association gave her a lifetime award for the body of her work," Jim Blair said.
After her marriage to Hugh Kincaid ended, Diane married Jim Blair, an attorney, in 1979. Gov. Bill Clinton performed the ceremony and Hillary Rodham Clinton served as "Best Person."
In 1980, Clinton appointed Diane Blair to the commission for the Arkansas Educational Television Network where she served until 1993. She was chairperson from 1986 to 1987.
In 1992 and 1996, Blair served as an advisor on the Clinton-Gore presidential campaigns, and also chronicled the 1992 campaign as official historian. She was also selected to be a member of the Arkansas delegation to the Electoral College. She followed the campaign again in 1996, keeping journals and conducting interviews on the team's perception of the campaign. Those papers were donated to Special Collections at the UA Libraries. Clinton appointed Blair to the board of directors of the U.S. Corporation for Public Broadcasting where she served from 1993 to 2000, eventually becoming chair. After her passing, the boardroom was named in her memory. She edited or helped edit virtually all of Clinton's State of the Union addresses.
Blair took a sabbatical and became a guest scholar at the Brookings Institution in D.C., and stayed regularly at the White House as a guest of the Clintons. One day, while she and Jim Blair were strolling through museums in D.C., she received an urgent message to call President Clinton immediately. "So, she calls the president, and he says, 'What did you get for 16 across?,'" Blair said. "They worked the New York Times crossword puzzle every day."
In 1972, at the Democratic National Convention, she and her friend Mary Brown "Brownie" Ledbetter supported a plan to nominate the first woman, "Sissy" Farenthold, for the vice presidential position, much to the chagrin of Gov. Dale Bumpers who was expecting Sen. Thomas Eagleton to get the backing of the Arkansas delegation. They waited for the moment when Bumpers took the podium and could not stop them. "Bumpers would've killed them if he could've gotten off the stand," Blair said. "But he couldn't do anything about it. As far as I know, that was the first vote for a female vice president in the history of the party."
Diane Blair and First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton had a special friendship.
"She probably had more personal encounters with Hillary when Hillary was a public figure than anybody else," Jim Blair said. "They'd put on ball caps to disguise themselves and go walking on the National Mall without security and without anyone knowing who they were." Blair was diagnosed with lung cancer in early 2000. Later in the spring, the UA awarded her an honorary degree, and Blair delivered the commencement address. In her remarks, she stated, "It is impossible to be a good person and not to be a good citizen."
"She was determined to make the commencement address. She took steps to manage her pain, made it through the speech, and passed away about 30 days later," Blair said. "During the last few months of her life, Hillary, who was running for Senator, called her every day and came to visit four times."
Jim Blair bestowed an endowment to the Fayetteville Public Library in Diane's honor and also endowed the Diane Blair Chair of Political Science at the University of Arkansas. The Diane D. Blair Center of Southern Politics and Society at the University of Arkansas was established with funds appropriated from Congress in 2000.
More than anything, Jong remembers how her mother modeled strength and confidence.
"My mom was tough. She was not afraid to speak her mind or challenge anyone," she said. "At times growing up, I remember wishing she wouldn't, but now I appreciate it very much. She showed me what it meant to be a bright and powerful woman. I'm so lucky that she did."
BY MELISSA TUCKER
1938: Born on Oct. 25
1959: Graduated from Cornell University
1967: Earned a master's degree in political science from the University of Arkansas
1971: Appointed to chair Commission on the Status of Women by Gov. Dale Bumpers
1976: Appointed to chair Commission on Public Employee Rights by Gov. David Pryor
1979: Published her first book, Silent Hattie Speaks: The Personal Journal of Senator Hattie Caraway
1988: Published her second book, Arkansas Politics and Government: Do the People Rule?
1988 - 1989: Chaired Endowment Committee for the Washington County Single Parent Scholarship Fund
1990: Promoted to full professor at the University
1992-1993: Appointed to the Governor's Civil Rights Task Force
1992: Chaired the Platform Committee at the Arkansas Democratic Convention
1992: Member of Platform Committee at the Democratic National Convention
1993-2000: Director, Corporation for Public Broadcasting (two terms as Chair)
1995: Named to "Top 100 Arkansas Women" by Arkansas Business
Photo: Special Collections, University of Arkansas Library
Please Note: Illustration(s) are not available due to copyright restrictions.
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|Date:||Aug 12, 2019|
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