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Kathy Webb—the first openly gay member of the Arkansas General Assembly—has had a long career in private business (most notably as co-owner of Lilly’s Dim Sum Then Some restaurant), philanthropy, and local and state government. She has also been a leader in the women’s rights movement. Webb, who battled breast cancer, served as the founding president of the Chicago-area Susan G. Komen Cancer Foundation.
Kathy Lynette Webb was born in Blytheville (Mississippi County) on October 21, 1949. The youngest of three children—with a brother twelve years older and a sister nine years older—of Maurice Webb and Atha Webb, she graduated from Hall High School in Little Rock (Pulaski County) before going on to Randolph-Macon Woman’s College (now Randolph College) in Virginia. Graduating in 1971, she earned a BA in political science and also played on the basketball and tennis teams. Before she publicly identified as a lesbian, Webb was married to a man from 1973 to 1975.
After college, Webb moved back to Arkansas, where she worked as an account executive for an office supply company. She also was actively involved in the women’s movement, becoming head of the Pulaski County affiliate of the National Organization for Women (NOW). In 1982, she won election as national secretary, the only winning candidate who had not been endorsed by the incumbent administration. She was subsequently reelected and served in that position through the end of 1987.
Webb took a break from public life to manage a Domino’s pizza restaurant in Roslyn, Virginia. She earned the company’s Rookie Manager of the Year Award, the first woman in corporation history to be so honored. In 1994, Webb moved to Chicago, Illinois, to become regional vice president of Bruegger’s Bakeries. After working for Bruegger’s for a few years, Webb opened a barbecue restaurant in Chicago, Hoxie’s, named after her father’s hometown in Arkansas. She was the founding president of the Chicago area Susan G. Komen Cancer Foundation, which was established in 1997.
In 2000, Webb returned to the South, becoming the co-owner and co-founder of Lilly’s Dim Sum Then Some in Memphis, Tennessee. She and her business partner (and romantic partner at the time), Nancy Tesmer, started a second Lilly’s Dim Sum Then Some in Little Rock in 2002. Webb left the business in 2011.
Webb sought elective office for the first time in 2006. Running as a Democrat, she won election to the Arkansas House of Representatives. She became the first woman to chair the Joint Budget Committee. She also served as chair of the Arkansas Assembly Economic and Tax Policy Committee and was a member of the House Rules Committee; the Arkansas House Education Committee; the City, County and Local Affairs Committee; and the Arkansas Legislative Council. Webb twice won reelection, running unopposed in both 2008 and 2010.
She was well respected for her work in the Arkansas House of Representatives, earning numerous awards from organizations including the Sierra Club, the Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families, and the National Association of Women Business Owners. She was also named the Most Effective Member of the House of Representatives by Talk Business. She introduced numerous legislative proposals to address issues related to higher education, renewable energy sources, environmental protections, and home energy costs. Webb could not run for reelection in 2012 due to the state’s constitutionally mandated term limits.
In March 2012, following the end of her final legislative session, Webb assumed the position of executive director of the Arkansas Hunger Relief Alliance. Her new work was consistent with her co-founding of the Arkansas Legislative Hunger Caucus, as well as her service on the board of the Arkansas Foodbank Network.
In January 2014, she was appointed to the Little Rock Airport Commission, and, beginning on January 1, 2015, she joined the Little Rock City Board, representing Ward 3. Later that year, she sponsored—and shepherded through to passage—a city ordinance prohibiting the City of Little Rock (and companies with which it contracted) from discriminating based on sexual orientation or gender identity; this was in conflict with a recently enacted state law that prohibited local government from expanding anti-discrimination protections.
Webb resides in Little Rock.
For additional information:Ampezzan, Bobby. “Kathy Lynette Webb.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, October 13, 2013, pp. 1D, 5D.
“Kathy Webb.” City of Little Rock Board of Directors. http://www.littlerock.org/BoardOfDirectors/MemberBios/Detail.aspx?ID=5&print=true (accessed May 25, 2016).
Kathy Webb Papers. Center for Arkansas History and Culture. University of Arkansas at Little Rock, Little Rock, Arkansas.
“Representative Kathy Webb (D).” Arkansas State Legislature. http://www.arkleg.state.ar.us/assembly/2009/R/Pages/MemberProfile.aspx?member=Webb (accessed May 25, 2016).
“Women of the Food Industry: Kathy Webb.” Rock City Eats. http://www.rockcityeats.com/women-of-the-food-industry-kathy-webb/ (accessed May 25, 2016).
William H. Pruden III Ravenscroft School
Last Updated 6/6/2016
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