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Jerry Bookout was a long-time member of the Arkansas General Assembly, where he represented northeastern Arkansas as both a three-term state representative beginning in 1967 and a state senator beginning in 1973. In a legislative career that spanned three decades, his emphasis was on far-reaching issues involving education, healthcare, and the military.
Jerry Bookout was born on November 2, 1933, in Rector (Clay County) to Mary Mobley Bookout and Paul Otis Bookout. After attending Rector public schools, he enrolled at what is now Arkansas State University in Jonesboro (Craighead County), graduating in 1955 with a BA in history and political science. He was that year’s Reserve Officers' Training Corps (ROTC) Distinguished Military Graduate, and, after being commissioned as an armor officer, he served in active duty for three years with the First Armored Division. He then returned to Jonesboro and joined the Arkansas National Guard, serving for thirty years. Holding the rank of colonel, he retired in 1988 with the U.S. Legion of Merit Award, the Arkansas Distinguished Service Award, and the General C. C. Andrews Freedom Award.
After his active-duty military service, he settled in Jonesboro with his wife, Loretta Langford Bookout, whom he married in 1957. They had two children, Jill and Paul; like his father, Paul Bookout became a state senator. (In 2013, however, he was reprimanded and fined for violations related to campaign contributions; he resigned and pleaded guilty in a federal prosecution.)
Jerry Bookout served as director and board chair of Langford-Bookout Funeral Home after building a separate business, Bookout Monument Co. He became active in the American Legion, Elks Lodge, Jonesboro Chamber of Commerce, Freemasons, and The Retired Officers Association (TROA), which in 2002 became the Military Officers Association of America (MOAA).
Bookout began his political career in 1966 when he was elected to the Arkansas House of Representatives as a Democrat. After three terms in the House, he was elected to the Arkansas Senate. He served in both houses for a total of thirty-four years. During that time, he served as floor leader, was elected president pro tempore, and served as Senate majority leader. He sponsored or co-sponsored more than 600 pieces of legislation, most of which became law.
In 1967, during his first legislative term, Bookout was one of the original sponsors of the legislation granting university status to what was then Arkansas State College. He aided the growth of that institution with legislative assistance for funding programs and facilities.
In 1990, Bookout sponsored the bill creating the Arkansas Academic Challenge Scholarship. Bookout also supported legislation to create public school kindergartens, to provide textbooks free of charge, and to improve working conditions for teachers. He authored legislation to update public retirement systems for state employees as well as local police and fire departments. As co-chair of the Arkansas Legislative Council’s Corrections Subcommittee, he focused on issues concerning state prisons, the housing of inmates, and rehabilitation programs. He authored legislation that created the successful boot camp program for young offenders.
Bookout retired from the Arkansas Senate in 1995 but returned to serve again in 2003. During the latter part of his legislative career, he chaired committees in the legislature including Health Insurance and Prescription Drugs, Legislative Joint Auditing—Counties and Municipalities, and Public Health-Senate Health Services, in addition to serving for two decades on the powerful Joint Budget Committee and the Higher Educational Services Oversight Subcommittee.
Throughout his career, he continued his service to the Arkansas National Guard and was noted for doing Guard-related work on his own time as well as securing legislative funding for such facilities as armories while in the Senate. Guard officers have noted that Bookout traveled on many overseas missions to visit deployed troops.
In 2005, during his final legislative session, a Senate resolution honored Bookout for his distinguished public service. In 2006, a resolution was adopted to honor Bookout for his contributions to healthcare in Arkansas. The same resolution noted that on February 25, 2006, Bookout would be honored at the American Cancer Society’s First Annual Daffodil Ball, which Bookout had agreed to co-chair.
However, on February 22, 2006, Bookout died of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a cancer of the lymph nodes. His burial was held with military honors. Honorary pallbearers included past and present Arkansas legislators, municipal and county officials, retired military officers, and local physicians. Speakers included Attorney General Mike Beebe and former U.S. Senator David Pryor, with condolence letters being read from President Bill Clinton and former U.S. Senator Dale Bumpers, among many others.
For additional information:Fahr, Rick. “A Lifetime of Service.” Jonesboro Sun, February 23, 2006, pp. A1, A2.
“Jerry Bookout, Sr.—Jonesboro.” Northeast Arkansas Town Crier, March 8, 2006. Online at http://www.thetown-crier.com/story/1327978.html (accessed February 26, 2018).
Nancy Hendricks Garland County Historical Society
Last Updated 2/26/2018
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