Bobby Fussell, a retired U.S. bankruptcy judge who never really recovered from a stroke he suffered 15 years ago, days before his scheduled retirement, died early Tuesday at an assisted-living facility in Little Rock where he had lived for several years.
Even in death, the 80-year-old Fussell retained his sense of humor, leaving behind a long list of instructions that included having his longtime friend Henry Hodges gather 70 honorary pallbearers for his funeral this week.
"He wanted me to contact all of them," Hodges said Tuesday afternoon as he made his way through the detailed list of names. He said a special area of the church will be reserved for as many of them as can make it, assuming all can be notified.
After 20 years on the bench in Little Rock and Fayetteville, Fussell had planned to retire Jan. 1, 2003, the day he turned 65, after which he wanted to travel, teach and volunteer.
But on Dec. 24, 2002, he was admitted to a hospital in Fayetteville after paramedics alerted by a friend who had called to wish him a merry Christmas burst into his house on Mount Sequoya, where he lived alone. It turned out he'd had a stroke a day or two earlier, and, although he was able to tell his friend over the phone to call 911, he was unable to speak by the time he arrived at the hospital.
Fussell's plans to teach at the University of Arkansas School of Law and volunteer with UA's Fulbright Institute of International Relations, after a six-week trip to New Zealand, Australia, South Africa and Portugal, never materialized.
Despite the setback, "He has remained one of the more positive people I have ever known," another longtime friend, Bob Dawson of Fort Smith, said Tuesday.
Dawson, a senior federal judge in the Western District of Arkansas, recalled that during his last visit with Fussell, "he talked about how blessed we were."
Though Fussell was largely bedridden after the stroke, he did a lot of reading and visiting with friends -- lots and lots of friends, Dawson and Hodges said.
"He was a classy guy with more friends than anybody I've ever met," said Hodges, who for years practiced law down the hall from Fussell on the 17th floor of the downtown Little Rock skyscraper now known as the Regions Bank Building, until Fussell became a bankruptcy judge in 1983.
Dawson, who met Fussell when the pair were in Boys State "55 to 60 years ago," and went on to be his college roommate before both eventually became federal judges, was asked whether he was Fussell's best friend. He replied, "Probably a million people would say they were his best friend."
He agreed that "Bobby may have been the most positive person I think any of us will ever know."
Fussell was a pallbearer at the 2012 funeral of Dawson's wife, Ann. He was the godfather for Dawson's children. But even more than being a good friend to many and a nice man, he was known as a compassionate jurist and even in recent years retained a keen legal mind -- so much so that the state bar named him Arkansas' Outstanding Lawyer just two years ago.
In the past four to five weeks, Fussell took a "pretty substantial downturn," Dawson said, "yet he remained positive."
"Bobby's going to be missed by the entire legal community and probably the whole state," Dawson predicted.
Metro on 05/02/2018
Print Headline: Friends mourn former judge, 80