Pryor Shares Stories About Former Senate Colleague Dale Bumpers

Jan 7, 2016

Former Sen. David Pryor (right) and Clinton School of Public Service Dean Skip Rutherford at Wednesday's Legacies & Lunch event at the CALS Ron Robinson Theater in Little Rock.
Credit Michael Hibblen / KUAR News

In advance of Sunday's memorial service for former U.S. Senator and Arkansas Governor Dale Bumpers, his longtime colleague in the Senate shared a few stories about Bumpers during a Legacies & Lunch program, hosted by the Butler Center for Arkansas Studies Wednesday at the Central Arkansas Library System's Ron Robinson Theater. The event had been scheduled before Bumpers' death and included Pryor also reflecting on his own political career.

A packed house listened as Pryor was interviewed by Skip Rutherford, dean of the Clinton School of Public Service. Pryor opened his remarks by talking about his own grief and the challenge he's facing being one of the speakers at Sunday's memorial service. Former President Bill Clinton is also expected to speak.

This is awful, I get very emotional about this. In fact Dale used to tell me, he said, 'David you'd break out crying if we dedicate a new washateria or something. But I do, I get very emotional and I try to get by it and I've got a little role to play in the ceremony on Sunday afternoon and I'm just hoping I don't make a fool out of myself.

Pryor said that in the Senate, often the two senators representing each state wouldn't get along, even if they were from the same party. But Pryor said he and Bumpers were different.

He was not only my friend, he was our friend. He made Arkansas proud and Dale probably was one of the most unique political figures that I've ever known anywhere in this state. We had a relationship and a camaraderie and a friendship and it was bound by a common interest yes, but just because we liked each other, I guess. I'm flattering myself saying he liked me, but I think he did and he was a special person and a very, very special warm friend.

Pryor also referenced the role Bumpers played shortly after retiring from the Senate in 1999. Bumpers returned to the chamber during the impeachment trial of President Clinton to deliver the defense for Clinton who lied about a sexual relationship. Bumpers told his former colleagues, "the president suffered a terrible moral lapse, a marital infidelity. Not a breach of the public trust, not a crime against society, it is a sex scandal. H.L. Mencken one time said 'when you hear somebody say this is not about money, it's about money. And when you hear somebody say this is not about sex, it's about sex."

Pryor said that garnered Bumpers international attention.

I loved his confidence, I loved his humor, I loved his things that he stood for. When I say I loved his confidence, he did have a confidence that none of the rest of us seemed to... let's say exemplify. I'll never forget the great oration he made right after he left the Senate in the impeachment trial of President Clinton. I called him that night, and I've told this story many times and used to tell it around him, but I called him and I said 'Dale that may have been the greatest speech ever given in the United State Senate' and he said 'I'm inclined to agree with you.' And you know, he was just that way and that was Dale. And I used to tell the old story about us going to IHOP, Skip, one morning after that speech and the news people from all over the world were after him to do interviews in London and all over the place and wanting him to come speak to this convention and that convention and he turned 99 percent of that away and turned it down. But we were at IHOP one morning having breakfast and I noticed, I was looking over toward the cash register and there were two waitresses over there and they were talking and pointing over toward us, and I said 'Dale I think you've been recognized here and they're going to come over and want your autograph in a minute,' and so sure enough, here they came and said 'We were having an argument over here at the cash register. Which one of ya'll used to be sheriff of Pulaski County?' We always enjoyed those stories.

After they both left the Senate, Pryor told the crowd about how he and Bumpers would travel around Arkansas together, speaking about their experiences.

We were called on by eight or 10 groups from time to time to go around the state. We called it kind of the Antiques Roadshow and when we were there we'd go to Russellville and Hot Springs and Fort Smith and all over. We had no notes and no preparation, we'd just get up there and talk. And we had a lot of fun doing that. I got where I, when he couldn't think of the punch line for his stories, I could, and vice-versa, he would remember mine when I couldn't.

Pryor closed his remarks about Bumpers Wednesday saying that, "He was special and we're going to miss him. He brought honor to our state "

Sunday's memorial service begins at 2:30 p.m. at First United Methodist Church in Little Rock.

A packed auditorium listens Wednesday as Pryor took part in the Legacies & Lunch event at the CALS Ron Robinson Theater.
Credit Michael Hibblen / KUAR News