The people walking into Midtown Billiards on Tuesday, the day owner Maggie Hinson died, took an obligatory shot of Patron. Back when Hinson was running the Little Rock establishment, she'd get there at 6 a.m., take a shot of the tequila and eat peanuts.
Hinson, who had brilliant red hair that rivaled Loretta Lynn's in volume and curls and who had a personality to match, died Tuesday morning after a two-year fight with kidney disease, her children said.
Daughter Dorothy Northern said Hinson's body did what her spirit never did: It "just wore out."
Hinson, 72, lived a long, hard life, her daughter said. After a truck hit her when she was 7, her leg was amputated. As an adult in Little Rock, she worked with veterans and others who lost limbs, giving hope to people who struggled as she did.
When she was 16, she hit the road and left Stuttgart, joining hordes of hippies in San Francisco, where she lived next to Janis Joplin and Joe Cocker, Northern said. Hinson saw them again at Woodstock.
She bought Midtown with the love of her life, Jim Hinson, in 1989. Everybody called him "Big Jim," her friend Greg Pumphrey said, adding that they threw memorable Halloween parties, where Big Jim once dressed up as Henry VIII.
They were married for 28 years, until he died on Christmas Day in 2013.
Hinson was particularly loved by her employees, who regarded her as a second mother, they all said.
"My appearance ain't too welcoming to a lot of people, I know, but she said as long as you're here, you're family," said Derrick Martin, who has worked at Midtown for almost two years.
Martin's front teeth are gold, and tattoos line his arms. On Tuesday, he sat in one of the bar's high-top chairs and a tear ran down his face as he said he'd miss their morning talks.
"It's not going to be the same now, but it's all we got. This is Maggie right here," he said, gesturing at Midtown's graffiti-covered walls.
Brannon Brekeen, who has worked at Midtown for about 12 years, said Hinson "had your back always."
"She loved us all," Brekeen said. "It was like a big family. She was Momma Maggie."
Donovan Townsend and Molissa Boston, too, regarded Hinson as family. They took over as announcer and scorekeeper, respectively, of the Thursday night Bottle Toss after Hinson quit serving as announcer three years ago. To play Bottle Toss, all the competitors form a line and try to fling empty beer bottles into a trash can across the room. Once players make the shot, they each get a free beer. The last person to make a shot has to buy beer for the rest of the contestants.
Pumphrey said he was one of the 11 who started the game, which now draws as many as 60 players. They play every Thursday night.
On Tuesday, flowers lined the bar, and four candles lit the gloom. People yelled out songs that reminded them of Hinson, and others hurriedly searched phones to play them over the loudspeaker.
Someone at the bar shouted to play Bing Crosby's "When We Were Young," and a woman searched through the phone before finding "When You and I Were Young, Maggie."
Brendon Holmes, who worked at Midtown for three years, sat at the bar.
"Ain't got no bulls**t," he said of Hinson. "If she was talking to you, she's saying the real deal."
Nobody knows what they'll do without her, said her friends and employees.
But her son David Shipps, who has been running Midtown for the past few years, plans to keep the bar with the same old Midtown spunk.
He said his mom was a hard worker and also helped start two bars with former employees, Four Quarter in North Little Rock and TC's Midtown Grill North in Conway.
"She was just a genuine soul," Shipps said. "She was strong, and if you were lucky enough to be her friend, she would be there with you to the gates of hell."
Shipps laughed and said she was the only person he knew who could fire people and receive a response in which they would hug her and tell her how much they loved her.
Norman Jones, the owner of Discovery Night Club and Hinson's longtime friend, said she advocated for her people and the city of Little Rock.
The two knew each other for more than 30 years and often talked about improving the city and about how important it was to keep their bars open until 5 a.m., allowing people who get off work late a place to go.
"She was one of the movers and the shakers about trying to make sure we had entertainment in Little Rock, like late-night clubs and stuff like modern cities do," Jones said.
Metro on 05/01/2019
Print Headline: Owner of Little Rock's Midtown Billiards dies at 72, remembered as 'genuine soul'