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ARKANSAS NOTEBOOK: Home for another funeral _ and stories

July 18, 1997

JASPER, Ark. (AP) _ President Clinton wound his way through the Ozarks Friday to bury one of his earliest political helpmates. But it wasn’t all mourning. The president was reveling in being back on home turf.

On the half-mile drive from the Coffman Funeral Home to Jasper’s First Baptist Church, where Clinton eulogized Hilary Ward Jones as a political mentor, he brought his motorcade to a halt outside the Newton County Courthouse. He popped out to linger long over handshakes and reminiscences with a small crowd in this sleepy vacation spot.

The unscheduled stop left some locals predicting yet another Arkansas campaign for Clinton, who was governor for 12 years.

``He’s a campaigner,″ said Buster Walters, 76.

``And he’s not going to stop, either,″ finished Dennis Pruitt, 77, the second in a trio of retired men who sat in denim bib overalls whittling red cedar on a park bench. None budged to greet Clinton.

``I’ve shaken his hand three, four, five times before _ all those times he ran for governor. And he’ll be back to run for governor again. He will. Mark my words,″ said Pruitt.

Asked about that prediction, White House spokesman Joe Lockhart rocked back in his chair and smiled: ``Let me think on that a spell. They may know something we don’t. Let me think on that a spell.″

___

It was Jones who taught Clinton how to work a town square.

``I learned a lot from him about going to the sale barns and the country stores and the remote places where most people never went just to listen to people’s hopes and dreams and hurts and fears,″ Clinton said in a brief eulogy.

``I learned what ferocious power can beat in the heart of any ordinary citizen who believes that he or she can make a difference.″

Jones, 70, who died Tuesday, helped Clinton with his first run for Congress in 1974. Clinton lost to former Rep. John Paul Hammerschmidt by a narrow margin in this predominantly Republican district but it put Clinton on the political map.

``After the first time I met (Jones), I knew that my life would never be the same,″ Clinton said.

___

Arriving in nearby Harrison late Thursday night after speeches in Pittsburgh and Chicago, Clinton changed into blue jeans and entertained nearly a dozen old political pals for more than an hour near the Holiday Inn swimming pool. He then went for a midnight call on the Jones family and lingered into the wee hours.

Clinton fondly recalled for reporters earlier visits to this northwest corner of the state _ the moonshiners, the caves to explore, and the local dialect that he said sounded frozen in time from ``literally a hundred years ago.″

He said that when he got to the White House in 1993, he told his staff: ``I know I’m leaving my life back there behind ... but there are a few people that, if anything should happen to them while I’m president, whatever I’m doing, I gotta go home.″

Clinton was in Hope, Ark., just last month for the funeral of his great-uncle.

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