Jonesboro Legislator Jerry Bookout Dies

February 22, 2006 – Posted at 4:58 p.m. CST

JONESBORO, AR -- Region 8 legislator Jerry Bookout of Jonesboro has died. The 72-year-old veteran State Senator had been suffering from cancer of the lymph nodes. Bookout died early Wednesday morning.

A Democrat, Bookout previously served three terms in the state house in the 1960's and 70's, but he is best know throughout Region 8 for his work while as State Senator, serving 12 terms.

Bookout's legislative career dealt largely with health and education. And for those who knew and worked with him on these issues, it's easy to see where he left his mark.

A 1955 graduate of then-Arkansas State College...Jerry Bookout first entered public service in 1966. He sponsored legislation that created Arkansas State University.

"He was really here during the formative years and helped us a great deal to build the university that we see here today," said ASU President Dr. Les Wyatt.

During his legislative career, he helped secure appropriations for most of the buildings on campus, including the Convocation Center, the Dean B. Ellis Library and Indian Stadium. He was also the sole sponsor of the bill that created the Arkansas State Academic Challenge Scholarship...providing almost $100 million dollars to nearly 40,000 Arkansas students.

"Senator Bookout was our senator," said Dr. Wyatt, "He was identified in Little Rock as ASU's go-to person and I think that every time people saw him at the capital they associated him with his representation with the interest of Arkansas State University and the Jonesboro community."

Bookout retired from the Arkansas Senate in 1994, but reentered public service in 2003.

"He's done numerous things on the legislative side to improve health care for the rural area, which is what we're in. He has put many bills into place that have helped us and the people that live in our community," said Beverly McCollum, Daffodil Ball Chairperson.

This year's honorary chairman of the American Cancer Society's Daffodil Ball, Bookout's absence is bittersweet.

"What we plan on doing is making it a celebration...he did so much for all of us," said McCollum through tears.

"It's easy to say at a time like this that we will miss Jerry Bookout, but in a larger sense, we don't miss him at all. He's still here," said Dr. Wyatt.

Bookout also served for 30 years in the Arkansas National Guard and retired with the Legion of Merit award. David Doyle knew his close friend Jerry Bookout was sick and when he learned his friend had passed away, he pulled out his old college year book.

"Everyone who knew him considered him a friend and he was," said Doyle, remembering his time spent at Arkansas State College.

Doyle and Bookout were just two of the 700 freshman coming into a school of only 1200. Bookout's leadership skills soon came into play as the head of Doyle's fraternity.

"He was a different sort of cat," laughed Doyle, "I mean, even in college he went and turned our frat from the lowest GPA to the highest."

A trend which has continued throughout the years.

"He's always been a good influence on the people around him," commented Doyle.

Doyle isn't the only one crediting Bookout for affecting his life. Gubernatorial candidate Mike Beebe recognizes Bookout for influencing him when he first moved into politics.

"He was someone I looked up to and admired, but also a close personal friend and he is going to be someone missed by not just us here in northeast Arkansas, but all of Arkansas," said Beebe.

"I think everyone in Craighead County knew the guy, if not in Arkansas so much that it was hard to hold a conversation with him, but you know people just loved him they loved the guy," said Doyle.

Funeral services are set for Friday at 11:00 a.m. at the First Baptist Church of Jonesboro at 701 South Main Street. Visitation will be Thursday from 4:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. at the Langford-Bookout Funeral Home at 1900 West Washington Avenue in Jonesboro.

(K8 News Assignments Manager Randy Myers contributed to this report.)