John Paul Hammerschmidt.
The natural death of a man who achieved great things and remained active and productive throughout most of his 93rd year cannot be counted a tragedy. The death last week of John Paul Hammerschmidt was impeccably timed in that it gave the entire state an opportunity to pause and remember that politics and politicians were once admirable and productive.
Born in Harrison in 1922, Mr. Hammerschmidt was a true member of the Greatest Generation. After service as a combat pilot, he returned to his home state, entered the family's lumber business and became active in Republican politics while the GOP was barely a blip in Arkansas.
Almost on a fluke, he ran for Congress in 1966. Reflecting both the changing population of northwest Arkansas and the Republican Party's success in offering strong candidates, he was elected to the House of Representatives on the same ballot that brought Winthrop Rockefeller to the Governor's Mansion. He was the first Republican to represent Arkansas in Washington since Reconstruction, and he remained in office for the next 26 years--thwarting the first run for office by a whippersnapper named Bill Clinton in 1974 and serving his final term even as Clinton ascended to the presidency.
Hammerschmidt was a Republican of the old school, not the type to mix religion and politics. But his attention to what Clinton last week called "the human element of public service" was legendary. He put the people of his district and their needs before politics and before party, and that showed in his legacy accomplishments in both elected office, like the Buffalo National River, and private service, such as the Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport. But it was even more apparent in his quarter-century of small services to individuals who needed a friend in government.
The state has lost something with the passing of John Paul Hammerschmidt, but may we also gain a reminder of what public service has been and can be again.