Former Gov. Frank White Dead at 69

May 21, 2003
Posted at: 10:00 p.m. CDT

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. -- Former Governor Frank White, remembered as one of only two men to defeat Bill Clinton in an election, died tonight at his home. He was 69.

White, a Republican, ousted Clinton from the governor's office in 1980, after Clinton had served one term as the state's chief executive. Clinton came back to defeat White in 1982, and beat him again in 1986 when White made another run for governor.

As governor, White was widely remembered as the signer of a measure approved by the Legislature that required the state's teachers to include what was called ``creation science'' in the curriculum if the theory of evolution was taught.

The law was later struck down as unconstitutional by a federal judge after a trial that drew national attention to the state.

Clinton lamented White's death in a statement issued by longtime Clinton associate Skip Rutherford.

The former president said "I'm very sorry to learn of his passing. Hillary and I send our prayers to Gaye and his family. While we were opponents in the past, we established a good friendship and I liked him very much."

The only other candidate to defeat Clinton was then-Representative John Paul Hammerschmidt, a Republican that Clinton tried to oust from Congress in his first run for office in 1974.

Governor Huckabee, a Republican like White, said "Frank's death was a great shock and personal loss to Janet and me. He was not only a mentor, Cabinet member and colleague, but a personal friend with whom I have shared wonderful times at work as well as in the duck woods. His acumen for assisting with charitable endeavors was unsurpassed by any Arkansan, living or dead. His sense of humor will be missed. With Frank gone, his laughter will be replaced by our tears. I ask all Arkansans to join me in praying for Gaye and all of Frank's family and in remembering this wonderful public servant."

After leaving the governor's office in 1983, White went to work for the Little Rock investment banking firm of Stephens Incorporated. He later joined First Commercial Bank as a senior vice president, where he served until July 1998, when Huckabee appointed him state banking commissioner.

At a dinner featuring a reunion of the state's seven then-living governors last July, White kept guests laughing with stories about his two years in the Governor's Mansion. One story involved his unexpectedly running into a group of touring school children while dressed in his underclothes.

Former Senator David Pryor, a Democrat who served as one of the state's two senators during White's tenure as governor, recalled White's lack of concern about partisan politics in his personal relationships.

Pryor said "He did not care if you were a Democrat or a Republican, he was always your friend. He was jovial. His heart was as big as he was. He will be really missed ... in this community and this state."

Pryor recalled bringing White, then a Democrat, into state government when Pryor was governor and he named White to the Arkansas Industrial Development Commission.

Pryor also recalled the time he received the phone call from White that dragged him off the Senate floor in Washington. Pryor said "He told me he was going to run for governor. I told him that there was no way he could beat Bill Clinton in the Democratic primary. That's when he told me he wasn't going to run in the Democratic primary because he was switching parties. I was stunned to say the least."

White was born Durward Frank Kyle in 1933. His mother remarried and his stepfather, Frank White, adopted him.

As a youngster, White received an appointment to the US Naval Academy. After graduation, he served for five years in the Air Force, a tour that included time in the Congo and the Central High crisis.

In 1961, he returned to Little Rock, joining a brokerage firm. Twelve years later, he joined a Little Rock bank as vice president for business development. In 1977, he became president of Capital Savings and Loan.

In addition to his wife, Gaye, White's survivors include three children from a previous marriage, Rebecca, Kyle and Elizabeth.

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