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Robert Ballard (Bob) Bailey was a prominent early to mid-twentieth-century lawyer and political figure who served two terms in the state Senate and three terms as lieutenant governor. He frequently served as acting governor when the governor was out of state.
Bob Bailey was born on August 7, 1889, in Knott County, Kentucky, to John Marshall and Mollie (or Mallie) French Bailey. His father served as a district judge in the Hindman, Kentucky, area. Bailey attended high school in Hindman and acquired his early knowledge of law by accompanying his father to court. He later studied law under his father and attended Kentucky Wesleyan College in Winchester and the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.
On May 2, 1909, Bailey arrived in Arkansas to look after property his father owned. On December 25, 1910, he married Sibyl Craig of Russellville (Pope County), the granddaughter of M. L. Craig, one of the city’s major property owners. Bailey and his wife had two sons, Robert and Craig. Robert L. Bailey Jr. later served in the state Senate.
Bailey was admitted to practice law in Arkansas in 1912. He first ran for political office in 1914 as a Democratic candidate in an unsuccessful race for circuit clerk. In 1919, he was elected Russellville city attorney. He again served as city attorney from 1931 to 1935.
In 1922 and 1932, Bailey was elected to the state Senate. In 1925, he was named Senate president pro tempore. He became first in the line to the governor’s office in 1928, when the position of lieutenant governor was vacant for ten months after Governor John Ellis Martineau resigned and Lieutenant Governor Harvey Parnell became governor. In Bailey’s second term, he served as Senate minority leader in opposition to the Parnell administration’s handling of state finances during the Great Depression.
Bailey sponsored legislation repealing the “circle” method of operation for insurance companies, whereby rates within a county are determined as a weighted average of all nearby counties, saying he believed it harmed lower-income Arkansans. Bailey also sponsored legislation dealing with highways, budget matters, and the state attorney general’s office.
In 1936, Bailey was the Democratic Party nominee in the race for lieutenant governor, and he beat Republican candidate Robert A. Zebold of Pine Bluff (Jefferson County) by a wide margin. He was reelected in 1938 and 1940. Bailey was lieutenant governor during the terms of governors Carl E. Bailey (no relation) and Homer M. Adkins.
From 1937 to 1941, during Carl Bailey’s term, Bob Bailey served 240 days as acting governor because of the governor’s frequent travels outside the state.
By all accounts, Bailey sought to make his days as acting governor uneventful for the state. Commenting on his desire to avoid controversial activities while acting as governor, Bailey said during his last term of office, “I know when to let Homer Adkins attend to his own business.”
After his third term as lieutenant governor, Bailey returned to private practice, although he staged an unsuccessful campaign in 1952 for the office of Ninth District chancellor, who was responsible for conducting sessions of Chancery and Probate Court.
Bailey was active in many civic organizations. Early in his career, he was active in the Liberty Loan and Victory Loan drives during and immediately after World War I. Bailey was also a thirty-second degree Mason, a Shriner, and a charter member of the Russellville Rotary Club. He served on the Russellville School Board and was a member of the First Methodist Church of Russellville.
Bailey died unexpectedly at his home in Russellville on December 23, 1957. He is buried in Oakland Cemetery in Russellville.
For additional information:“Bob Bailey, Political Figure, Dies.” Arkansas Gazette. December 24, 1957, p. A1.
“Robert Bailey.” In Centennial History of Arkansas. Vol. 2, edited by Dallas T. Herndon. Chicago: S. J. Clarke Publishing Company, 1922.
Jeff BaileyArkansas State University
Last Updated 9/30/2011
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