Years ago, when Tom Farmer made the switch from the Benton School District to the Bryant School District, in just over a week, his entire wardrobe went from maroon and gray to royal blue — the schools’ colors. When he was elected the new mayor for the city of Benton on Nov. 6, his wardrobe switched again.
“I was completely surprised and humbled at the same time,” Farmer said. “It was amazing the way it turned out. It was a very humbling experience that so many people were putting their faith and trust in us to guide the city.”
Farmer defeated candidates Terry Benham and Jerry Ponder with a 51 percent majority vote. Former mayor David Mattingly announced last summer that he would not run for a third term.
Farmer said he felt called to run for mayor after his pastor, Rick Grant, delivered six sermons on servanthood.
“His sermons were about how we need to serve the people outside the church,” Farmer said. “As Christians, we do a good job of serving people inside the church, but we need to get outside the church and serve everybody.
“And after he finished up those sermons, I got word that Mattingly had decided not to run.”
Farmer said he began praying and thinking about and discussing with his family the possibility of running. Becoming mayor was never on his mind until the preacher started talking about serving people.
“To be an elected official is no more than a servant of all the people who are involved and everyone in the city limits of Benton …,” Farmer said. “I’ve got to give God the credit for the whole thing — placing it on my heart — and then having my family support me wholeheartedly.
“This election is not about me. It is about the people of Benton because I can’t do anything, but together, we can do a lot of things.”
Farmer said becoming mayor was “all in God’s plan.”
“God convinced me to run, and he laid everything out,” Farmer said. “God supplied everything I needed throughout the campaign.”
Farmer was born in Baltimore, Maryland, but moved to Hot Springs after his dad retired from military service. Farmer graduated from Lake Hamilton High School in 1976.
“I wasn’t born and raised here, but I was raised here,” Farmer said. “My first job was at Benton High School, as an offensive line coach, and we moved to Benton in 1980.
“Cheryl and I were a young couple with a child, and this city embraced us, grew us and helped us mature into adults. I feel like I was raised up here. This is home for us.”
Farmer said he had opportunities over the years to move to different places — even out of state — but never took them.
“This is the first house we ever bought as a married couple, and we don’t plan on leaving until the good Lord brings us home,” Farmer said.
Farmer has served as the transportation director for the Bryant School District for the past five years, and prior to that, he was both the athletic director and transportation director.
“I think he was able to win with over 50 percent of the votes because of his work in the community and the people he has helped,” former Bryant School District Superintendent Tom Kimbrell said of Farmer. “Everybody has a great respect for him. He is the kind of person who wants to make the city better, and he does that by helping people — because it is not about Tom Farmer being mayor; it is going to be about Tom Farmer helping the people of the community have a better life.”
Kimbrell said Farmer’s love for serving people is nothing new. He said that while the two of them were working together for the Bryant School District, Farmer would find people who had a need and deliver — in a full Santa Claus costume — a turkey at Thanksgiving or a ham at Christmas.
“We would usually get a ham or a turkey from one of our vendors, but I will never accept those things. Tom had the idea of delivering to a family in need, either someone in the community or maybe someone who worked in our district,” Kimbrell said.
“His personality is that of what we all grew up believing Santa Claus to be. He is just a happy guy who wants to help wherever he can. … Tom would never do anything for Tom. He was always doing stuff for others,” Kimbrell said.
“The No. 1 factor in all this is people,” Farmer said.
“That is what it is all about. It is about dealing with people on a daily basis and treating them with the same respect you want in return. Everyone I come in contact with, I want to know how I can make their day better, and that’s how we are going to try to function as the city of Benton,” he said.
“When people come in, we are going to try to make their day better. That doesn’t mean we are always going to tell them yes, but it does mean we are going to take [their requests] with deep consideration and look to see what we can do to resolve the situation.
“We don’t want to give them the runaround.”
Dennis Byrd, who worked 10 years for the Associated Press and was a former newspaper editor, worked as Farmer’s campaign manager.
“Tom Farmer is exactly who he says he is,” Byrd said. “He is a man of faith, a hard worker, smart and determined, and a leader. I think his work ethic will be infectious. He is a natural leader, and he will get more out of people than they know and can do right now.
“Obviously, some things will require learning on the job, and he knows that, but I feel like he has a strong base on which to begin.”
Byrd initially met Farmer when he coached Byrd’s son in junior high. The men became closer when Farmer joined Byrd’s Sunday School class at First Baptist Church in Benton.
“The conventional wisdom states that when there are three quality candidates, generally, there will be a runoff,” Byrd said. “We thought our support was solid, and even when one of the candidates came on strong, we felt like we were in good shape. …
“… We felt good about our chances, and we didn’t let up. Our focus was name recognition and getting our name out there early, and we stuck with our plan and saw it through to the end.”
Farmer said Mattingly did an outstanding job of advancing the city of Benton to the next era.
“We want to continue with his advancement full steam ahead, and we want to take downtown Benton and do to it what Conway and Cabot have done to their downtowns,” Farmer said. “We want downtown to be the center point of the city for everything. We want people to come downtown, walk around and visit our shops and restaurants.
“I want us to grow, not only familywise, but also businesswise and economicwise. I want our schools to grow, and I want us to be the best.”
Farmer has spent 38 years in the education business and had planned on retiring, no matter the outcome of the election.
“I’m excited to have an opportunity to work with a different group of people, different from what I have been working with the past 38 years, but at the same time, I’m saddened,” Farmer said. “It is hard to leave a family that you have grown to trust.
“I’m excited to take that next step in life and work with another group of people.”
Farmer said there are a lot of similarities from his previous jobs to what he is about to undertake.
“It will be a a new chapter and a new phase in my life, and it will be a challenge. Everyone in today’s society only worries about one thing, and that’s what’s best for them,” Farmer said.
“Everyone who approaches us is searching for their individual gains,” he said. “We’ve got to look at the whole picture and see what’s best for the city. … I’m not naive enough to think that it is going to be easy, but with every challenge is an opportunity to provide greatness or an opportunity to fail.
“Our goal in this whole thing is to provide opportunities for everyone to succeed.”
Staff writer Sam Pierce can be reached at (501) 244-4314 or email@example.com.