DR. CALVIN LEDBETTER JR. A photo of the young man, from the Ottenheimer Library.

  • DR. CALVIN LEDBETTER JR. A photo of the young man, from the Ottenheimer Library.

Dr. Calvin R. Ledbetter Jr., a retired UALR professor and dean and former state legislator, died today at 84.

A biography compiled when an exhibit of his papers was opened in April at the UALR Center for Arkansas History and Culture provides many of the details of his life. He retired from UALR in 1997 after 37 years, a time during which he was a professor, chair of the department of political science and dean of the college of liberal arts.

He served five terms in the state House of Representatives (a Democrat) and was among the leaders of two unsuccessful efforts to revise the Arkansas Constitution. He created an endowment to study the legislative process and to begin assembling legislators’ papers for that purpose. His scholarly writing included “Carpenter from Conway: George Washington Donaghey as Governor of Arkansas, 1909-1913.”


A courtly and studious man with an impressive resume of his own, Ledbetter also had a measure of public familiarity because of his wife, Brownie, a political activist who died in 2010. A portion of the exhibit on his papers included information about her devotion to progressive causes.

Ruebel Funeral Home will be handling arrangements. UALR has scheduled a memorial service for him at 2 p.m. Friday, Aug. 16, in the Calvin R. Ledbetter Jr. Assembly Hall in the Donaghey Student Center.

UPDATE: The family’s obituary follows.

Calvin R. Ledbetter, Jr. (Cal Ledbetter), revered professor, author, politician and philanthropist died in Little Rock on August 10, 2013 at the age of 84.

He was the son of Calvin R. Ledbetter and Virginia Campbell Ledbetter and is survived by his son Grainger Ledbetter (Sherry Curry), his daughter Snow Ledbetter Moen (Chris) and five grandchildren—Campbell, Mary and Jeff Curry-Ledbetter, and Lily and Gwyneth Moen. He is preceded in death by his son, Jeffery Calvin Ledbetter and his wife of 55 years, Brownie Williams Ledbetter.

Born in Little Rock at Saint Vincent’s Infirmary on April 29, 1929, he attended public school in Little Rock and went to Princeton University, graduating from the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. He received a J.D. from the University of Arkansas Law School and served in the Student Senate. After briefly practicing law in Little Rock, he joined the Army as a member of the Judge Advocate General Corps and served in Germany for three years. After completing his military service he obtained a PhD in Political Science from Northwestern University where he taught as a graduate student.


In 1960 he joined the faculty at the University of Little Rock. From 1961-1978 he was chair of the Political Science Department which was soon expanded to include Criminal Justice. He was particularly proud that during his chairmanship the faculty grew from two to thirteen and an Associate Degree in Law Enforcement was created. Bachelor of Art Degrees in Political Science and Criminal Justice and Master of Arts in Criminal Justice and Public Administration were also added to the curriculum. In 1978, after a national search, he was selected as Dean of the College of Liberal Arts at UALR. During his ten-year tenure as Dean, Master of Arts degrees in Public History, Applied Psychology, and Technical and Expository Writing were established and the Center for Arkansas Studies and the Humanists as Mediators program (a program that employed Liberal Arts faculty members as mediators in minor legal disputes) was created. He also served as chair/president of the National Conference of Academic Deans, the Arkansas Political Science Association, the Arkansas History Commission, and the Arkansas Humanities Council. Upon his retirement from UALR he was made Professor Emeritus for Political Science.

A passionate student of Arkansas history, he wrote extensively about the state and its political past. His best known book, Carpenter from Conway, is a biography of the state’s 22nd governor, George W. Donaghey . He also co-authored three books, Politics in Arkansas: the Constitutional Experience, The Arkansas Plan: A Case Study in Public Policy, and Arkansas Becomes a State. In addition he authored over thirty articles for various journals including the Arkansas Historical Quarterly, the National Civic Review, the University of Arkansas Law Review and State Government.

His academic career was complemented by a successful career in politics. From 1967-1976 he served in the Arkansas Legislature and sponsored several significant initiatives including property tax relief for residents over 65, extended voting hours and a landmark study that led to major improvements in the operations of the Arkansas legislature. He served as a member of the executive committee of the National Council of State Legislatures and chaired the NCSL Criminal Justice Task Force. He was a delegate to Democratic conventions in 1968 and 1984, and served as an election night analyst for ABC from 1964-1984. A strong believer in the need for a new state constitution for Arkansas, he served as vice-president of the Arkansas Constitutional Convention of 1978-1979.

Always active in the community, he served on the Board of Trustees of Philander Smith College and the Boards of St. Vincent Infirmary Medical Center and the Community Council of Central Arkansas. He was chair of the College and Universities Section of United Way and president of the West Little Rock Rotary Club. An ardent advocate for education, he endowed non-traditional scholarships and a monograph press at UALR and was a major supporter of Arkansas’s two public radio stations, KLRE/KUAR. A life-long Presbyterian, he served as deacon, elder, and session clerk for several Presbyterian churches in Little Rock.

He received the Arkansas Bar Association Writing Excellence Award and was recognized for outstanding contributions to the humanities by the Little Rock Arts and Humanities Commission. In 1994 UALR awarded him the Faculty Excellence Award for Public Service and he received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Arkansas History Association in 2004. He is also listed in Who’s Who in America.

The family wishes to thank Cal’s dedicated and loving caregivers, Dorothy Jackson, Gail Johnson, Nancy Babbs and Dee, Violet and Robert of Compassionate Home Health

A memorial is planned for August 16 from 2:00-3:00 p.m. in the Calvin R. Ledbetter Assembly Hall at the Donaghey Center on the UALR Campus. Visitation will be held from 5-7 p.m. August 14 at the Ruebel Funeral Home and graveside services for family members will be conducted at Roselawn Cemetary on August 15.

The family asks that memorials be made in the form of donations to UALR.