Editor’s Note: This is the number three local story of the year, as voted by the Commercial staff. The number four story, the opening of Highland Pellets, was profiled as part of the state’s top agriculture stories in Tuesday’s edition, and the number five story was the decision by the Jefferson County Tax Board to end collection of the three-eighths cent sales tax after a sufficient surplus had accumulated. Due to space and time limitations, a standalone story on the tax issue will not appear.
When Pine Bluff native Jay Dickey ran for Congress in 1992, he ran as a Republican in a district that had historically elected Democrats. When he won, he made history. Dickey’s elections, his service and his death in April was selected the number three story of 2017 by The Commercial.
A graduate of Pine Bluff High School, Dickey attended Hendrix College in Conway before receiving a bachelor’s and law degree from the University of Arkansas. He worked as an attorney in private practice and was Pine Bluff city attorney for two years before seeking political office for the first time, Arkansas’ Fourth Congressional District.
“Jay was one of those people who loved life and everyone around him,” Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson said in a statement released after Dickey’s death. “I had the privilege of serving with Jay in Congress and I have never seen anyone who was so determined to fight for the people of his district. He made friends easily and he stuck with them.”
Dickey beat then-Secretary of State Bill McCuen in 1992, winning 52 percent of the vote. Two years later, he collected 52 percent of the vote when he defeated another Pine Bluff native, Jay Bradford, who later served as Arkansas insurance commissioner during the administration of Governor Mike Beebe.
Dickey would win twice more, in 1996 when he beat Vincent Tolliver, and in 1968 when he defeated former State Representative Judy Smith.
His congressional career ended when he was defeated by former Congressman Mike Ross in the 2000 General Election and an attempt to win the seat back two years later was unsuccessful.
In a statement, Ross said he met Dickey about 25 years before the two became opponents in two elections.
“Following those elections, we became fast friends and remained so until his passing,” Ross said. “I’ll always remember Jay and his steadfast commitment to the people of Arkansas and this country. We often talked about the issues of the day, but we also talked about our faith. Jay was a born-again Christian and he was very public about it. He was a good man who served our state and our nation fearlessly.”
Current U.S. Senator Tom Cotton, R-Ark., who represented the Fourth Congressional District after defeating Ross, said, “Jay became a good friend and a trusted source of counsel during my first campaign for his old Congressional District. He was a good man and a man of deep faith. Jay was one of a kind and we’re richer as individuals and as a state for having him come into our lives.”
A free-lance photographer for The Commercial, Joe Dempsey was a neighbor of Dickey’s as well as a friend.
“He lived around the corner and was really active in the community,”Dempsey said. “Although he worked in Washington, he came home on weekends and if you missed seeing him one weekend, the chances are that you would see him at the next because he was always at some event or the other.”