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Former Gov. McMath Fo Arkansas Dies at 91

October 5, 2003

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) _ Former Arkansas Gov. Sid McMath, who had become a powerful prosecutor and the state’s leader by the age of 40, died at his home in Little Rock. He was 91.

McMath had been examined by doctors last week for an irregular heartbeat. He died late Saturday, his son Phillip McMath said.

After serving in the military during World War II, McMath began a career in public service, becoming a prosecutor in Hot Springs and winning election to his first of two terms as governor in 1948.

``He was a young, progressive governor who had cleaned up Hot Springs and done real good things for Arkansas, real tolerant in race, and tried to do a lot for education and roads,″ said Cal Ledbetter, professor emeritus of political science at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock.

The year McMath left office, however, a commission was investigating allegations of scandals in the state Highway Department during the McMath administration. Grand juries returned indictments against three members of McMath’s administration. Juries acquitted two of them, and a judge threw out the charges against the third.

Nothing ever directly linked McMath to any wrongdoing, but McMath spent more that 50 years living down the allegations.

In his book, ``Promises Kept,″ released in 2003, McMath chronicled a dozen years of public service that began with his service in the South Pacific and ended with his 1952 defeat for a third term as governor in the midst of the scandal.

``The public remembers the charges, but the exonerations are forgotten,″ McMath said in an interview last year with The Associated Press.

McMath formed a law practice in Little Rock after leaving office. In 1954, he made an unsuccessful attempt to oust Sen. John L. McClellan, a Democrat. Eight years later, he ran again for governor but lost to then-Gov. Orval E. Faubus.

``As he grew older, he continued to be such a positive force for good. We have lost one of our true heroes,″ former President Bill Clinton said in a statement.

Gov. Mike Huckabee on Sunday praised McMath’s ability to work across party lines.

``His concept and practice of public service was the gold standard of political practice as he transcended the pettiness which marks much of contemporary partisanship,″ Huckabee said. ``He was undeniably and unapologetically a Democrat, but one who loved good government.″

McMath is survived by his wife, Betty Dortch Russell McMath; sons Phillip, Sandy and Bruce; and daughters Patricia and Melissa.

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