Little Rock, Arkansas and Community Progress lose a champion

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Dan Kildee, President, Center for Community Progress

In May of 2005, at the conclusion of the first land bank conference we ever held, I was approached by two sweet sounding women from Arkansas. They had made the trek to my hometown of Flint to learn about how a land bank might help their hometown of Little Rock.

“How would you like a free trip to Little Rock, Arkansas?’ they asked. At the time, I could not have known that the question posed by Myra Jones and Joan Adcock was not really the plaintive request it seemed. It was a done deal – they knew then that I was going to Little Rock. It was just a matter of when.

I meet a lot of people in my travels, people of all kinds and from all sorts of interesting places. But there was something special about Joan and Myra. They were a tenacious pair.

Sadly, I learned yesterday from Joan that Myra, our friend and ally in fighting for a better Little Rock, had died rather suddenly.

Until I heard the news, I had not quite realized the effect Myra has had on me. Myra was one of those people you just can’t shake. She was an original. She had interesting friends, interesting stories. She made friends fast, and kept them. She loved people and especially loved Little Rock.

I recall my first trip to Little Rock. Myra picked me up at the airport, as she did for nearly every one of my many visits there since. She insisted – always. On that day, Myra gave me the first of many tours of Little Rock. We never went straight to a meeting. We always took some circuitous route and saw her city – and I heard the stories she loved to tell.

She knew her hometown. She told me tales of the people and places of Little Rock – who lived in that house, who started that business…who was married to whom….how she first met “Bill” (Clinton, that is…another of her lifelong friends). Her stories made Little Rock come alive to me…it’s one of the few places I visit where I really feel at home.

As we drove around Little Rock, I came to know this amazing and somewhat flirtatious being, She had an interesting story – the first woman elected to a full term as a Little Rock City Director (Council member), after which she was elected to the Arkansas legislature and served 14 years there. She knew Bill and Hillary Clinton as just friends – before any of us had ever heard of them. She knew Senators, Governors, members of Congress all on a first name basis. More precisely, they knew her.

Myra had quite a resume – musician, lobbyist, City Director, state Legislator – but the thing that sticks with me more than anything was her tenacity on behalf of her community. She was a person who understood and exercised leadership.

She was never constrained by the role she was supposed to play. Even after she left public office, she just kept on working to make her city better. Myra went beyond her formal authority. She created disequilibrium. Myra was a squeaky wheel for Little Rock. And she got things done. Without Myra, lots of the good and interesting things I would see on those driving tours of her city would never have been there. Without Myra, there would certainly never have been a Little Rock Land Bank.

I am sure this is a tough time for the community of Little Rock. They have lost a friend and a champion for their community. And Joan Adcock, now a City Director herself, has lost her close friend and ally of 40 years.

But at this moment, to me, I feel like our community – those of us who believe in the cities of America and are willing to challenge the status quo to try to make those places better – we have lost one of our own too. We will miss her.

I know I will.