A piece of work

El Dorado News-Times - - Opinion -

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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