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Louis L. Ramsay Jr.: Arkansas Business Hall of Fame inductee.

MOST PEOPLE WHO REACH 84 retired so long ago that they have only some old workaday memories to hang onto.

But each day, Louis L. Ramsay Jr., who will be inducted next month into the Arkansas Business Hall of Fame, still can be found in his office on the 11th floor of the Simmons Building in Pine Bluff. He now serves of counsel in the Ramsay Bridgforth Harrelson & Starling law firm.

"I enjoy working," Ramsay said. As usual, there's a smile on his face.

Ramsay, the only Arkansan to head both the Arkansas Bar Association and the Arkansas Bankers Association, now mostly works in an advisory capacity, helping younger lawyers with his experience in certain areas. "I can help them some," he said.

"I also still confer with Tommy May -- when he wants to confer with me," Ramsay adds. May is the president, chairman and CEO of Simmons First National Corp.

A quick look around his office discloses one of Ramsay's passions -- duck hunting. The room is full of duck-hunting pictures, duck bookends, decoys and knickknacks. He still finds time to go, although he doesn't do near the quail hunting he used to do.

Ramsay's other passion is Arkansas.

"I love this state," he said. "I believe it's poised to overcome some of its past.

"I'm always disappointed when I see things that set us back. I remember back to Bob Burns and Lum and Abner" The state was ridiculed and "we didn't deserve that," he said.

"But it's now poised -- if we take advantage of the opportunities -- to get a better reputation. I look at the growth m northwest Arkansas. I see the expansion at Wal-Mart and the trucking industry in the state, at businesses like Stephens and Dullard's, and I see the state doing much better."

One thing that needs to be overcome, he said, is competition between various regions of the state.

"We need to unify in an all-out effort and support efforts to gain new business anywhere in the state. We need to stop the competition among ourselves," he said. "If Pine Bluff can help Marion get the Toyota assembly plant -- do it. If we can help west Arkansas get Interstate 29, we should do it. Unity is important for the state. We can overcome a lot, but we need to work together."

Varied Service

It's that kind of thinking that has made Ramsay one of the look-to leaders in Arkansas. He has been called to fill many jobs.

Ramsay continues as chairman of the executive committee of Simmons First National Corp., the holding company for Simmons, but over the years, he served as the bank's president, chairman and CEO.

He also has chaired the boards of the Arkansas Science and Technology Authority, the University of Arkansas Foundation, Arkansas Blue Cross and Blue Shield and the Arkansas Sesquicentennial Commission. He has also served on the board of trustees for the University of Arkansas from 1971 to 1981 and as commissioner to the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws in the 1960s.

But Ramsay's first passion was the law. As a youngster growing up in Fordyce, Ramsay would go down to the Dallas County courthouse to watch the criminal trials.

He graduated from Fordyce High School in 1937. Although he first headed to Alabama on an athletic scholarship, his heart was in Arkansas, and he came back to the University of Arkansas after a couple of weeks. He played quarterback for the Razorbacks and attended law school -- something that's seldom seen these days.

His college education was interrupted by World War II. Ramsay was commissioned a second lieutenant in the Army infantry but later received training as a pilot and ended his military career as a major in the Army Air Corps.

After the war, Ramsay returned to Fayetteville and the UA Law School. He received his juris doctorate in 1947 and a friend, Harvey McGeorge, told him about the Pine Bluff law firm of William Coleman and Nicholas Gantt. He joined the firm and has stayed. He had been serving on the board of Simmons First National Bank when he was asked to become president of the bank in 1970.

"I told them that I wasn't sure I was the right person," Ramsay said. "I always wanted to be a lawyer"

A deal was struck which allowed Ramsay to remain with the law firm while running the bank. "This was so I'd have a job to come back to if the bank job didn't work out," he said.

Of course, it did work. Even so, by 1974 Ramsay became CEO, and four years after that he became chairman. He remained head of the bank until 1983.

During those years, Arkansas banks faced a crisis. Interest rates were soaring as high was 21 percent, while the usury law in Arkansas's 19th century constitution limited banks to charging only 10 percent.

"It was terrible. Money was flowing out of the state." And during this time, there was an oil crisis.

Staying Positive

His work in both the legal and financial fields always leads to the inevitable question of which he liked best.

"That's hard to say," Ramsay said. "They're not the same. They are so different. I like both."

In fact, Ramsey likes life.

"Life has been good to me," Ramsay said. Everyone has a choice of being negative or positive, he said, and he chooses the latter

Even with all of the problems the state is facing these days, Ramsay remains upbeat. There have -been disappointments, however "The state hasn't made the progress like I wanted to see at this point," he said, "but I think it's 'going to do better"

The state may have done better if Ramsay had followed the advice of friends and ran for governor Although he said he never seriously considered a run for the office, his many contacts throughout the state, his reputation and his personality might have made him a strong candidate.

Still, he keeps up with the political happenings in the state.

"It's going to be a tough row to hoe" for the General Assembly this session, he said. "There are a lot of problems it will have to face. The solutions are very difficult. It's going to be interesting to see what the governor and the Legislature come up with."

The loss of rural representation in the Legislature due to population shifts is working against the Delta, he said.

"The legislators don't understand agriculture. But we need agriculture. We'll always need food and fiber The cost of fanning, however, is a problem," Ramsey said.

"What the Delta needs is jobs. And the way to get jobs is to build better roads," Ramsay said, as he talks of the need for Interstate 69 and the connector road from Pine Bluff south to the interstate.

"It's kind of like when the railroads came years ago." The towns that got them thrived, and the ones that didn't often died, he said.

Business Hall of Fame

Asked what he considers to be his greatest accomplishment, Ramsay instead gave credit for any success to others.

"My success is due to a lot of other people," he said. "I value most the friendships I've made through the years. I've been fortunate to be involved with great people at the University of Arkansas, in banking and at the law firm. I couldn't ask for better people. I really like people."

Over the years, Ramsay's leadership had made a significant impact on Pine Bluff and southeast Arkansas. In 1989, he was named Pine Bluff's "most influential citizen."

When he is inducted into the Arkansas Business Hall of Fame by the Sam M. Walton College of Business at the University of Arkansas, he will be joined by:

* Richard E. Bell, president and chief executive officer, Riceland Foods Inc. of Stuttgart.

* David D. Glass, chairman of the executive committee of the board of directors, Wal-Mart Stores Inc. of Bentonville.

* The late Robert D. Nabholz Sr., founder and chairman emeritus, Nabholz Construction Corp. of Conway.

This is the fifth year for the hail of fame, which inducts no more than four business leaders a year

Past inductees include these deceased members: William Dillard Sr., Charles H. Murphy Jr., Sam M. Walton, Harvey Jones, Donald W Reynolds, Thomas H. Barton and William E. Darby.

Living inductees include Jackson T. Stephens, Johnelle and J.B. Hunt; John H. Johnson, Roland S. Boreham Jr., F. Sheridan Garrison, Walter V. Smiley, Gene George, Joe T. Ford and Don Tyson.

The 2003 induction ceremony is Feb. 7 at the Statehouse Convention Center in Little Rock. The Arkansas Business Hall of Fame is housed in the atrium of the Donald W. Reynolds Center for Enterprise Development at the Walton College on the Fayetteville campus.

Tickets to the black-tie induction ceremony are $125 per person.
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Comment:Louis L. Ramsay Jr.: Arkansas Business Hall of Fame inductee.
Author:Henry, John
Publication:Arkansas Business
Geographic Code:1U7AR
Date:Jan 20, 2003
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