HARRISON -- The last goodbye for former U.S. Rep. John Paul Hammerschmidt took some note of what many would consider his major accomplishments.
These include the designation of the Buffalo River as a national park, the federal funding for Interstate 49 and building of Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport. There was also some mention made of his historic election as the first Arkansas Republican to hold federal office in the 20th century.
But the recurring theme of each speaker and of each participant interviewed in Monday's memorial service was Hammerschmidt's devotion to the duty of serving individuals who called on him for help.
The memorial service was held Monday at the hometown church where Hammerschmidt was an elder, First Presbyterian Church of Harrison. The former congressman, who served Arkansas' 3rd District in the House of Representatives from 1967 to 1993, died April 1.
Eulogist Kenneth Reeves of Harrison asked the crowd for a show of hands from those who had received the late congressman's personal aid and attention. A near-unanimous raising of hands went up from the crowd of about 400. Hands were raised by members ranging from Gov. Asa Hutchinson, U.S. Sen. John Boozman of Rogers and other state leaders to fellow members of the Harrison congregation and friends from around the state, the prominent and the private.
"That is a legacy," Reeves said.
Former U.S. Rep. Ed Bethune of Little Rock recalled coming to Hammerschmidt's office as a freshman congressman in 1979 and seeing walls covered with case files of individual Arkansans, all sorted by their issues: tax, regulation, benefit snags, environmental issues and so on. "There were racks and racks of file folders," Bethune said. "It was like looking at a computer, only it was one made out of paper," Bethune said.
"He marked every sparrow's fall in his district, which was huge at the time," Bethune said.
More than a willingness to listen to and address issues big and small set Hammerschmidt apart, said former Gov. Jim Guy Tucker of Little Rock, who is also an alumnus of the Arkansas House delegation. Hammerschmidt was a very effective advocate on any issue, however sweeping or small, detailed and difficult, Tucker said. "He always worked hard, and he worked skillfully," said Tucker, a Democrat.
Hammerschmidt's devotion to duty and work ethic set a standard that outlives him, said many of the state leaders who attended the service. "It will take months, perhaps to the end of this year, before we're able to start providing constituency service at the level he did," said U.S. Rep. Bruce Westerman, the freshman Republican representing south Arkansas' 4th District.
Hammerschmidt was a veteran of World War II, when he was a pilot on the transport route over the Himalaya Mountains, a route so dangerous the Army Air Corps lost 17 planes and 92 crewmen in one day just because of bad weather. Any mechanical failure or pilot error could mean death in the barren, unforgiving terrain below even if the crew survived a crash.
"He is the face of the generation so aptly described as America's greatest," said U.S. Rep. Steve Womack of Rogers, a successor of Hammerschmidt as Northwest Arkansas' 3rd District representative. "He's one of those who came back from that war and actually built this country and who loved it. Everywhere I go in the 3rd District I see the things he built that help drive this economy, and he did all these things while he was in the minority party."
Beyond his duties as a district representative, Hammerschmidt assumed the additional task of being the sole Republican representative in Arkansas for decades. This meant, for instance, when a Republican U.S. President wanted to make appointments to positions such as federal judges, it was up to Hammerschmidt to make the recommendation. The congressman knew and worked with people all across the state, memorial participants said.
"If you're an elected official in Arkansas and get mentioned in the same sentence as John Paul Hammerschmidt, you're a success," Womack said.
Even in retirement, Hammerschmidt kept active in both community projects and state politics. Freshman state Rep. Robin Lundstrum, R-Springdale, recalled Hammerschmidt insisted on attending her first fundraiser early last year. The event was in Siloam Springs, a driving distance of 96 miles. Hammerschmidt, then 91, drove himself to the event and returned home to Harrison that night, she said.
Despite his active career and very demanding work schedule, Hammerschmidt was devoted to his friends, community, church and family, said Bob Hammerschmidt Jr., a nephew of the former congressman. "It was nonstop laughter whenever the family got together," the younger Hammerschmidt said. "He and his brothers had so much fun, and they all had very sharp wits. They were fun to be around and I miss those days."
"Despite the fact that he was the one who met all these famous world leaders, he was always very humble," Bob Hammerschmidt said. "I remember when I got into banking business, he told me to focus on making a difference. If I did that, he said, the money would follow."
Metro on 05/05/2015
Print Headline: Final farewells note hew to duty