Tuesday, February 07, 2012

TOP STORY >> Former legislator had Cabot roots

Leader staff writer

George Wimberly, who grew up in Cabot, was known for many things.

He was a former mayor of Little Rock and he served in the Arkansas House of Representatives.

He was a drug store owner with no formal education as a druggist and by most accounts a caring man who would go out of his way to make sure his drug store customers had what they needed even in the middle of the night.

Wimberly died Sunday. He was 92 and despite all his accomplishments, he is best known across the state from news reports in 1988 about a scandal at his Buice Drug Store in Stifft Station concerning his good friend Little Rock Police Chief Jess F. “Doc” Hale. Hale was caught on camera with his hand in Wimberly’s cash register. He was suspended and charged with misdemeanor theft of less than $200. Then he shot himself to death a month later.

His defenders said Wimberly allowed him to take money from time to time.

State Sen. Eddie Joe Williams called The Leader when he heard about Wimberly’s death, not to set the record straight but to talk about his connection to Wimberly, a first cousin to Williams’ mother, Dorothy Wimberly Williams.

He had always known Wimberly, Williams said. They attended the same family reunions and his mother told him stories about how Wimberly’s father made sure her father had money to buy Christmas gifts for them.

“When we were kids, we looked up to him because he was the mayor of Little Rock,” Williams said. “That might be where my interest in politics came from. I didn’t know anyone else who was involved.”

It was only later, when Williams ran for city council in Cabot that he learned that J.T. Wimberly, George’s father, became Cabot’s first mayor in 1919 before going back to Star City where he was elected Lincoln County judge and then to the Arkansas House of Representatives.

When Williams became mayor in 2007, he looked through old city records and found his great-uncle’s name in the first city book. Then he called his cousin and got a picture of J.T. Wimberly to hang in the hallway at city hall with all the other mayors. Until January 2011, J.T. Wimberly was at the head of the line of pictures and Williams was at the end.

When Williams was sworn in as mayor, his mother and Wimberly were there. Wimberly talked briefly about the old days and one of his teachers, Mrs. Park, mother of city leader J.M. Park, now deceased.

When Williams ran for state senate, he visited Wimberly at his drug store, which had ceased to be a popular hangout for politicians after the incident with Hale in 1988.

“He reached in his pocket and pulled out a hundred dollar bill. He said he wanted to help,” he said.

Williams said he talked to his cousin once about what happened with Hale.

“The Doc Hale thing was such a sad chapter in his life,” he said. He said it was the most difficult thing he had ever lived through.

“Money was missing and he didn’t know why. And when he saw the tape, he turned it over to the State Police. He said it was out of his hands.”

The incident almost certainly ended Wimberly’s political career. But he kept his drug store open and continued to take care of his customers until shortly before his death.

“What you hear is true, Williams said. “He really did carry a case of light bulbs in his car.”

Wimberly delivered medicine to shut-ins, Williams said. When he came across a porch with a light out, he changed the bulb because he knew the people inside couldn’t do it for themselves.

Williams also attested to the truthfulness of the blog posts about the signs that hung in his cousin’s drug store: The only true love that money can buy is a dog and don’t tell my mother I’m a lobbyist, she thinks I’m a piano player in a whorehouse.

They were there on the wall, Williams said.

Even Williams pointed out that his cousin is probably best known for the incident in 1988. But here are a few remarks posted on the Arkansas Times blog by people who knew him:

“George and I sat on the same row in the ledge and we came into service in the same class. George was always genial and respectful and helpful to most. Other things, others can testify to.

Once I went to George with a complaint about my big toe hurting. I could hardly walk.
I removed my shoe to let George look at it. Before I could yell in pain, he had taken pliers and pulled off my toe nail. More shock than pain. He then patched me up and sent me on my way. Problem solved.”

“George was the sweetest man. When my girls were little we lived down the street, and we would walk to see him on Saturdays. He also very graciously delivered their prescriptions to the door when they had an ear infection or were sick. Loved him dearly.”

“Mr. Wimberly was one of the most caring people to ever live in this fine state. There is no telling the number of prescriptions he filled and gave to patients who could not afford them. He took in stray dogs and stray people of all shades and lent them a hand. He was a true friend to many, and he will be missed.”

“The pharmacy, the sign and all ought to be a little museum. I think it was the last place I filled a prescription, which the label was made with a typewriter.”

“George was one of the hardest working men I ever knew, even at 80 or 90 years old he worked seven days a week, and got there early in the morning. I have even seen him at work on Christmas Day on more than one occasion. He would go out of his way to help someone. He would sometimes bend the rules a little when someone truly needed help, and understood that doing what was right was sometimes more important than doing what was legal. He was a role model, a better person than most anyone I have ever known.”