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Wayne Dowd was a lawyer and politician from Texarkana (Miller County) who accumulated power and influence during twenty-two years in the Arkansas Senate. He had a hand in nearly all the judicial reforms during that period and was the architect of a complete overhaul of Arkansas juvenile justice laws in 1985. He died while attending a convention of the Arkansas Bar Association at Hot Springs (Garland County), where he was about to be honored for fifty years of service to the legal system as a lawyer and lawmaker.
Clark Wayne Dowd was born on November 1, 1941, in Texarkana, Texas, one of three sons of Tillman L. Dowd and Blanche Ethel Pope Dowd, both salespeople. He attended a junior college, Texarkana College, for two years, and in 1964 he received a BS in business administration at Southern State College (now Southern Arkansas University) at Magnolia (Columbia County).
He received a law degree from the University of Arkansas School of Law in Fayetteville (Washington County) in 1966. There, he met his future wife, Margaret Walker. They married and had two sons.
Dowd began practicing law and eventually became a partner with Gene Harrelson and others in a Texarkana law firm that had been started by Harrelson’s father-in-law, U.S. Representative Boyd Tackett, a celebrated trial lawyer who ran for governor in 1952 but lost. The firm produced a number of politicians who held local, state, and judicial offices. Dowd remained with the law firm until his death.
Soon after joining the firm, Dowd became city attorney for Texarkana and then a deputy prosecuting attorney for the Eighth Judicial District. In 1978, he was elected to the Arkansas Senate from a district that embraced Miller, Lafayette, and Little River counties. He was reelected easily four times, although the district boundaries changed. As a member of the Judiciary Committee, the last eight years as its chairman, Dowd put his stamp on most of the criminal and civil statutes of the era. In 1985, he sponsored a wholesale revision of the obsolete juvenile code to reflect the new importance the state attached to the treatment of juvenile offenders and neglected children. In 1991, he was a co-sponsor of legislation that created the Academic Challenge Scholarships, which would later be subsidized by the state lottery. A champion of state parks, he sponsored a law levying a state tourism sales tax that supported parks and travel promotion. He was president pro tempore of the Senate in his last term.
Dowd’s laconic wit and storytelling engaged his fellow senators. Mike Beebe, who served eighteen years with Dowd in the Senate, and later was attorney general and governor, called Dowd the finest orator in the Senate and one of the few lawmakers he had known who actually changed votes when he got up to speak.
A state constitutional amendment that limited legislators’ length of service ended Dowd’s political career in 2000. However, he continued to practice law in Texarkana and lead the Democratic Party in the county. He became a public defender for indigent criminal defendants in Miller and Lafayette counties.
Dowd died on June 16, 2016, in Hot Springs during the convention of the Arkansas Bar Association, which was honoring him for his contributions to the bar and the legal system. He is buried at Woodlawn Cemetery in Texarkana.
For additional information:
“Arkansas Loses a Great Champion.” Texarkana Gazette, June 17, 2016, p. 1.
Bell, Becky. “Ex-Senator Recalled as Legal Ace, Good Friend.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, June 17, 2016, pp. 1B, 8B.
“Wayne Dowd: Acclaimed Statesman Was Also a Joy to Be Around.” Texarkana Gazette, June 18, 2016, p. 5A.
Little Rock, Arkansas
Last Updated 9/13/2016
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