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Ode Lee Maddox was a long-serving and influential member of the Arkansas General Assembly as well as a dedicated career educator. By combining his passion for education with his well-developed political skills, he played a central role in the development of the Arkansas public education system.
Ode Lee Maddox was born on October 2, 1912 in Oden (Montgomery County). He was the youngest of four children of Hugh Maddox and Alice Edwards Maddox. He received his early education at Caney Elementary, an experience he believed so central to his future accomplishments that he often said that his most important educational experience had been at the “University of Caney.” He graduated from Oden High School in 1932.
On October 6, 1934, he married Ruby Lackey. That same fall, Maddox started teaching at Oden High. He also served as the school’s bus driver and as a coach, leading the school’s basketball team to state championships in 1948 and 1954. Maddox’s career with the Oden School District, which ultimately spanned forty-two years, included thirty-one as superintendent.
During much of the time that Maddox was overseeing the Oden School District, he was also a member of the Arkansas House of Representatives. A Democrat, he was first elected in 1956, and he served for forty-two years, retiring in 1999 only because of constitutionally imposed term limits. During his tenure in the legislature, he wielded considerable power as the chair of the Insurance and Commerce Committee. Maddox also served on the Education Committee, where the man dubbed “Mr. Education” by many of his colleagues played a major role in the advancement of the state’s educational system. In 1983, he was instrumental in securing funding for Rich Mountain Community College in Mena (Polk County).
His crowning achievement was his work relating to rural education in Arkansas, especially his role in the effort to defeat the 1966 proposal by the Arkansas Education Association (AEA) to consolidate the state’s school districts by dissolving all districts with fewer than 400 students. Maddox was present at the creation of the Arkansas Rural Education Association (AREA), a group that was organized to oppose the AEA plan. He became a major strategist of the anti-consolidation effort, recognizing the political potency of the issue and calling upon the group to “inject the issue into every political race in Arkansas.” He asked his fellow superintendents to mobilize the alumni of the rural schools in support.
Maddox’s own reelection race became a symbol of the effort. After the redistricting, his formerly heavily rural district had a significantly more urban cast, and the AEA saw the opportunity to defeat him as a way to send an additional message to the rural community about the support for their plan. In the end, the AEA lost on both fronts when Maddox won reelection and the AEA plan was overwhelmingly defeated in the statewide referendum. Recognizing that, in the words of one AREA leader, they had “won the battle but not the war,” the group stayed active, and Maddox, as an influential member of the education committee, continued to protect AREA’s interests over the course of a career that continued for another three decades.
As a result of the term limits approved by voters in 1992, Maddox was prohibited from running for reelection in 1998. Following his retirement, he lived in Oden with his wife of almost sixty-seven years, with whom he had four children—two sons and two daughters. He was an active member of the First Baptist Church in Oden as well as a member of the board of directors of the First Bank of Montgomery County.
Maddox died on March 2, 2001. He is buried in Pinecrest Memorial Park in Mena. Ruby Maddox died in 2008.
For additional information:“Former State Legislator Championed Education.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, March 3, 2001, p. 6B.
Irby, Brian. “The Consolidation Battle of 1966 and the Creation of the Arkansas Rural Education Association.” U.S. Department of Education. http://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED427931.pdf (accessed June 9, 2016).
“Ode Lee Maddox.” Findagrave.com. http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=63503623 (accessed June 9, 2016).
Ross, Mike. “Recognizing Ode Lee Maddox, Mack Lee Taylor, and Robert C. (Bob) McWilliams III.” Congressional Record Vol. 147, Number 49 (Thursday, April 5, 2001), Extensions of Remarks. http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/CREC-2001-04-05/html/CREC-2001-04-05-pt1-PgE550-3.htm (accessed June 9, 2016).
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