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James Luin “Skip” Rutherford III, a native of Batesville (Independence County), is a long-standing figure in Arkansas politics, working as a key advisor on Bill Clinton’s 1992 presidential campaign and later serving as president of the Clinton Foundation and as dean of the University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service. Rutherford also led the effort to plan the William J. Clinton Presidential Center and Park, which would garner him several awards.
Skip Rutherford was born in Memphis, Tennessee, on January 28, 1950, the only child of James Luin Rutherford Jr. and Kathleen Roberson Rutherford. Rutherford grew up in Batesville and graduated from Batesville High School in 1968. He went on to attend the University of Arkansas (UA) in Fayetteville (Washington County), where he became editor of the Arkansas Traveler student newspaper during his senior year in 1971–1972.
After graduation, Rutherford took a position as public relations director at McIlroy Bank & Trust in Fayetteville. He volunteered in 1978 in David Pryor’s first senatorial campaign. After the election, Rutherford worked from 1979 to 1983 as director of Senator Pryor’s Arkansas office in Little Rock (Pulaski County). In 1983, Rutherford left Pryor’s office to work for Mack McLarty, CEO of the Arkansas Louisiana Gas Company. That same year, Rutherford founded the Political Animals Club, a nonpartisan organization of political activists and community leaders who meet to discuss politics.
Rutherford was elected to the Little Rock School Board in 1987 and served as president in 1990 when the board signed an agreement in which the state would financially support a plan to counter lingering segregation in Pulaski County’s schools. In 1989, Rutherford was named chair of the Democratic Party of Arkansas while his friend Bill Clinton, whom he had met in Fayetteville in 1974, served as governor.
In 1991, Clinton held private discussions with advisors, including Rutherford, to discuss the prospect of running for U.S. president against incumbent George H. W. Bush. Clinton began his run for president later that year, and Rutherford served as a volunteer fundraiser and an “Arkansas Traveler.” Rutherford later joined the campaign staff and worked as a senior advisor and a special assistant to campaign manager David Wilhelm. Among Rutherford’s roles was to help craft campaign strategy in the state of Kentucky as part of a political team. Clinton carried Kentucky’s eight electoral votes with 44.55 percent of the vote.
During Clinton’s 1996 reelection campaign, Rutherford stayed in Arkansas and worked as a campaign volunteer, while the reelection headquarters were located in Washington DC.
Following the 1992 presidential election, Rutherford became executive vice president of Cranford Johnson Robinson Woods, one of the state’s largest public relations and advertising agencies; Rutherford created its public policy division. An ardent supporter of a vital downtown Little Rock, Rutherford’s work on the presidential library contributed to a rebirth of activity in Little Rock’s long-dormant area that became the River Market District. In 1997, Rutherford coordinated the fortieth anniversary commemoration of the desegregation of Central High School.
Upon the Clinton Center’s opening in 2004, Rutherford received praise for his work. He was named Arkansan of the Year by the Arkansas Broadcasters Association and the Arkansas Times, named Headliner of the Year by the Arkansas Press Association, and received the Tourism Person of the Year Award at the Arkansas Governor’s Conference on Tourism.
In 2006, Rutherford became dean of the Clinton School of Public Service, which offered the country’s first master’s degree in public service. Rutherford followed in the footsteps of David Pryor, who had been the founding dean of the school. Under Rutherford's leadership, the Clinton School developed concurrent degree programs with the Walton College at the University of Arkansas; the Boozman College of Public Health at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS); and the University of Arkansas at Little Rock William H. Bowen School of Law.
During Rutherford’s tenure as dean, the Clinton School has also developed one of the nation’s most outstanding college speakers’ series. The series has featured ambassadors, academics, business leaders, philanthropists, journalists, and others.
For additional information:Blair, Diane. “Clinton Presidential Campaign Interviews.” Pryor Center for Arkansas Oral and Visual History. Online at http://pryorcenter.uark.edu/project.php?projectFolder=Diane%20D.%20Blair&thisProject=11&projectdisplayName=Diane%20D.%20Blair%20Project (accessed December 9, 2016).
Smith, Doug, and Max Brantley. “Skip Rutherford Quietly Gets Things Done.”Arkansas Times, January 20, 2005. Online at http://www.arktimes.com/arkansas/skip-rutherford-quietly-gets-things-done/Content?oid=866644 (accessed December 9, 2016).
Webb, Kane. “A Big Deal in Little Rock.” Wall Street Journal, November 17, 2004, p. 16A.
Griffin CoopLittle Rock, Arkansas
Last Updated 12/9/2016
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