Former state Sen. Whitaker dies at 77

Former Republican state Sen. Ruth Whitaker of Cedarville has died, officials said Monday. She was 77.

Ann Cornwell, the director of the Senate, confirmed that Whitaker died early Monday morning in Fayetteville, but said few other details were immediately available.

SenateAR, a Twitter account that is managed by Senate staff, said, "The Arkansas Senate mourns the passing of former State Senator Ruth Whitaker (R-Cedarville). Our thoughts and prayers are with her family."

In a separate statement, Gov. Mike Beebe described Whitaker as a "strong, independent Arkansan who didn't fear anyone or shy away from anything."

"While we didn't always agree politically, most conversations between Ruth and me would still end with both of us laughing. She carried a deep love of Arkansas and her people, and I will miss her wry smile and sensibility," he said.

Whitaker was a city alderman for her hometown of Cedarville before she was elected to represent District 3 in the state Senate from 2001-2012. She served as Senate minority leader for the 88th General Assembly and was involved in several committees throughout her legislative career. In her final term, she was chairman of two committees and vice-chair of the Judiciary Committee.

Her biography on the Arkansas Legislature's website states Whitaker was a longtime, active member of the state Republican party, and in 2003, was a founding member of the Arkansas Legislative Sportsmen's Caucus. She was also an activist for March of Dimes, the Arkansas Heart Association and "organizations supporting cystic fibrosis and muscular dystrophy," according to the website.

Read Tuesday's Arkansas Democrat-Gazette for more on this story.