Leader Blues

Friday, August 15, 2008

SPORTS>>Gwatney remembered as true Hog fan

FAYETTEVILLE — While Arkansas remembers Bill Gwatney as the state chairman of the Democratic party and a major automobile dealer in Pulaski County, longtime members of the Razorback Foundation remember him as a friend and an utterly avid, yet selfless, University of Arkansas booster.

At Arkansas Democratic headquarters in Little Rock, Gwatney of Jacksonville was murdered last Wednesday by a gunman who later was shot and killed by police.

Frank Broyles, who for 50 years served either as the UA’s athletic director or head football coach, knew Gwatney, 48, all of Gwatney’s life.

Harold Gwatney, Bill’s father, started the family car dealership and with it, a longtime relationship with the UA athletic department, during which Gwatney provided cars to Razorback coaches.

“His father was a great friend of mine,” Broyles said Thursday. “Bill was a great citizen of this state. A great Razorback fan, of course, but a great leader always for the good of Arkansas. I was so shocked and saddened. He cannot be replaced.”

Jeff Long, Broyles’ successor as AD since Jan. 1, was only two days away from a scheduled lunch with Gwatney.

He learned of Gwatney’s death Wednesday while at KATV in Little Rock for what was to have been a press conference.

“I had the pleasure of meeting him when I first arrived and I was scheduled to visit him in Little Rock for lunch on Friday,” Long said Thursday. “Obviously we are very saddened, and that’s why we made the decision not to go forward with the press conference.”

Chuck Dicus, the Razorback Foundation president and former Razorback All-American wide receiver, and Harold Horton, a Razorback Foundation vice president and a longtime former Razorback coach, recruiting coordinator and Razorback football letterman, recalled Gwatney’s fondness for the Hogs and the important yet unobtrusive ways he showed it.

“Bill Gwatney made my heart smile,” Horton said. He was always fun. Bill was one of those quiet supporters who loved the Razorbacks. He was a fan that supported us by being here and supporting us with his giving.”

One of Gwatney’s gifts parks in the head football coach’s parking spot.

“Bobby Petrino drives a Bill Gwatney automobile,” Horton said. “Bill didn’t stop at one. Our maintenance department has a vehicle supplied by Bill Gwatney. He has been providing the athletic department automobiles as long as I can remember. That goes back to his dad.

“Any time we’d fly into Memphis and needed a car, Bill’s brother in Memphis has a car dealership and would provide us one.”

Gwatney was a fixture at the annual football coaches/media/car-dealer golf scramble and was apparently a man for all seasons for all things Razorback.

“The Bill Gwatney I knew was a good businessman, a good politician and a big Razorback fan,” Dicus said. “He liked to talk about his love of the Razorbacks. It’s such a sad moment for all of us.”

Both Dicus and Horton said that “all” envelops the state.

“It’s not just a loss to the community of Jacksonville and Pulaski County,” Horton said. “He touched a lot of people. His loss will be felt.”