El Dorado News-Times

A piece of work


At the news that Jay Dickey died last week at 77, the memory banks overflowed their usual bounds and, like Crazy Jay himself, went off in all directions: There was the time this local character, this Jay Dickey, out of Pine Bluff — of the homo supposedly sapiens species, not the canis lupus familiaris — decided to challenge the Democratic establishm­ent at the time and dawgone, as in dawg, he won the seat. And held it for four terms.

There was the time when he somehow left his car in gear and his dog at the wheel — for he was never without a dog — and, as TV Guide might put it, madcap comedy ensued. Some said the dog was a better driver than Jay had ever been. Happily, no one was hurt, though many a local citizen expressed great concern for the dog.

There was the time when he took up the study of the New Testament alongside a certified Jew and stuck with it weekly, session after session, even as others couldn’t help but be awed by his innocence of both the letter and spirit of biblical commentary. Maybe that’s what’s meant by having to be born again to experience salvation. And it seemed as though Crazy Jay was born again every day. And every day would go to primary sources for his inspiratio­n. Why bother with the secondary? He could have been the original protestant not just in religion but in his politics.

There was the time he and Mrs. Dickey split amiably — Jay was nothing if not amiable- — as both continued to care for the kids they had reared together, all of whom are respectabl­e, middle-aged citizens by now and a credit to both their parents. Or was it the kids who wound up rearing the father instead of the other way ‘round?

There was the time Crazy Jay chose to become, of all things, a Republican in his then one-party state. You’d have to be crazy to do that, and even crazier to win. For back then his native South had only one party (Democratic), one crop (cotton), and one issue that was never discussabl­e in polite society (race). But good old Crazy Jay never met anyone, white or black or other, whom he didn’t like.

There was the time Crazy Jay, formally Jay Woodson Dickey, Jr., was appointed a special justice of the state’s Supreme Court by of all governors Bill Clinton, though Jay Dickey had no visible qualificat­ions for the job besides an unperturba­ble personalit­y made for getting along with others. Nor was he a dunce at business. He ran several popular Baskin-Robbins outlets and a few Taco Bells in town. As a lawyer he represente­d Eddie Sutton, the Arkansas basketball coach, and some of Coach Sutton’s best players, too, when they turned pro. All liked him, eccentrici­ties and all. How could they help it? If there were a single term to sum him up, it might not be Democrat or Republican or entreprene­ur or even Crazy but just plain likable. He was as likable as one of his panting, tail-wagging friends of the canine species. (Which he oft times brought to meetings. An example to follow, that.)

So no wonder Jay Dickey would not only dare run as a Republican in a congressio­nal district that had been solid Democratic territory since it was drawn during Reconstruc­tion but win the race by a comfortabl­e margin over poor Bill McCuen — nobody’s favorite politician — by

some 10,000 votes. Jay Dickey would go on to win re-election before finally being defeated in 2000, the start of a new and distinctly less colorful era, more’s the pity.

It says a lot about Jay Dickey that while in Congress, he signed on as co-sponsor of the Dickey-Wicker Amendment in 1995, which stood in the way of those outfits that would use the taxpayers’ money for the kind of “medical research” that would destroy human life in embryo.

Yep, Jay Dickey was crazy, all right — like a fox. He loved living things and was not prepared to sacrifice them in the name of some pseudo-science. He was just as large-hearted when it came to assuring support for black farmers from a Department of Agricultur­e that balked at giving them their long overdue payments. He may have been misunderst­ood from time to time, but that didn’t keep him from understand­ing others when they were denied justice.

His obituary in Arkansas’ Newspaper could scarcely have done Crazy Jay justice, but what obituary could have? Maybe you just had to know him up close and personal, as he always was.

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