Today's Paper Latest Coronavirus The Article Core Values Story ideas iPad Weather Newsletters Obits Puzzles Archive

LIVES REMEMBERED: Close quarters thread for these virus deaths

by Eric Besson, Ginny Monk, Kat Stromquist | June 7, 2020 at 8:38 a.m.
Covid-19 deaths by county

A registered nurse. A lifer at Cummins Unit prison.

A divorced mother who worked to support three children. A survivor of a 1959 reform school fire that killed 21 boys.

They are among more than 150 Arkansans who have died in the covid-19 pandemic.

What these four had in common: All lived in what health experts call "congregate" or group settings where it can be difficult, even impossible, to follow coronavirus prevention rules such as social distancing or wearing masks.

[CORONAVIRUS: Click here for our complete coverage »]

Three of every five covid-19-linked deaths last month in Arkansas -- about 60% of 69 deaths in May -- involved nursing home residents or prison inmates, according to state Department of Health records. Nursing homes were connected to 33, prisons 10. Since the pandemic began, 64 nursing home residents and 11 prison inmates have died in Arkansas.

This Arkansas Democrat-Gazette occasional series, "Lives Remembered," focuses on Arkansans claimed by covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. The 35 below died in May.

"I feel sorry when I see the deaths from this virus," said Karla Nelson, who lost her mother Myra Nelson, 90, of El Dorado. "They're not just a number. They're someone's mother or father, their child or brother or sister. They're someone."

About the covid-19 death of 90-year-old Stella Gentry of Maumelle, granddaughter Jennifer Williams said: "I know we're not the only family going through this ... but this is hard."

Because some survivors don't want their loved ones' names linked publicly to covid-19, the newspaper publishes names and photographs for this series with family members' permission. Others aren't named.

Lorraine Hensley, 91, Maumelle, died May 1. A licensed clinical social worker, Hensley was a St. Louis native who worked for social work providers in Illinois and Arkansas. She especially enjoyed gardening and was a Lifetime Arkansas Master Gardener.

Hensley's "sharp wit, brilliant mind and tenderness toward others enriched everyone she knew," her obituary said.

Despite declining health, the widow and mother of two stayed in her Maumelle home until recently. She moved into The Lakes at Maumelle Health and Rehabilitation early this year under hospice care, according to her daughter, Cindy Milazzo, of Maumelle. The nursing home had recorded 41 infections among residents by last week and eight deaths, according to the state Health Department.

Hensley tested positive for covid-19 about April 21. She never showed symptoms, Milazzo said, though the virus contributed to her death.

The Lakes nursing home, closed to visitors, provided computers for residents to talk to their families. "That allowed me to FaceTime her every day, even though she was nonresponsive" toward the end, Milazzo said. "They put earphones on her, and I was able to tell her how much she was loved."

An 87-year-old Pine Bluff woman, May 1.This Pine Bluff native and resident at The Waters of White Hall nursing home was a mother of four sons and five daughters, according to her obituary. Survivors include 44 grandchildren.

A 30-year-old Lincoln County man, May 2. He died at the Cummins Unit prison infirmary, according to a county coroner. The Cummins Unit has recorded more covid-19 cases than any other correctional facility in Arkansas, with 961 infected inmates and 65 staff members, as well as eight inmate deaths, as of late last week.

Charlie Alston, 82, White Hall, May 2. The resident of The Waters at White Hall nursing home liked to watch western movies and TV shows, and was fun-loving, said a family member.

A native of Yorktown in Conway County, he was admitted to a Pine Bluff hospital with respiratory failure. After his hospital admission, family members learned that he had tested positive for the covid-19 virus. His White Hall nursing home has reported 45 residents infected with covid-19 and 15 deaths..

A 49-year-old Lincoln County man and Cummins Unit inmate, May 3.He died at Jefferson Regional Medical Center of cardiorespiratory arrest and covid-19, according to a coroner's report.

An obituary said he "enjoyed reading the Bible, talking about his love for his family, kids and grandkids" and that he "always drove too fast."

Jeanne Kelley, 90, White Hall, May 3. Described by her daughter as "spunky," Kelley grew up among 12 siblings on a farm in Wabbaseka, in Jefferson County, and worked for nearly four decades at the Pine Bluff factory once called Mid-America Packaging.

Kelley's stint included time on the line making plastic bags for items such as dog food, and she had a lengthy run as union president, her daughter Beth Dial said.

"She didn't hesitate to speak up when she thought someone was wronged," Dial said. "She loved to kid. She loved to cut up. She was the life of the party when she was younger."

Kelley lived at The Waters of White Hall nursing home for a couple of years, Dial said, moving there from an assisted-living facility because she needed more help with daily activities.

Dial learned April 26 that Kelley had tested positive for covid-19 and asked that her mother be transferred to Jefferson Regional Medical Center for treatment. Kelley died a week later.

A 71-year-old Lincoln County man, and Cummins Unit inmate, May 3.

An 85-year-old Pine Bluff woman, May 4. A resident at The Villages of General Baptist Healthcare nursing home, she was crowned "queen" there last year.

A 94-year-old Fayetteville man, May 4. The Cincinnati native moved to Fayetteville to work with Baldwin Piano and Organ as an industrial engineer and supervisor.

A Navy veteran in World War II, he "fell in love with Naples, Italy" while serving in the Mediterranean, according to his obituary, and finally returned for a visit at age 85.

"A gifted woodworker, he also enjoyed bowling. He loved drinking coffee and rejoiced when McDonald's began serving breakfast all day," his obituary said. He died at the VA Medical Center in Fayetteville, according to a coroner's report.

A 56-year-old Little Rock woman, May 5. The wife and mother of two left an extended family "who will reminisce about the great times," according to her obituary.

A 98-year-old Ash Flat woman, May 5. She was a resident of Ash Flat Healthcare and Rehabilitation, according to a coroner's report. Her nursing home has reported 34 covid-19 infections of residents and two deaths.

Betty Hill, 65, Junction City, May 6. Hill loved to fish, said her older brother, Willie Turner. She'd often cross the state line to fish for bream at Lake Corney, a small body of water in Louisiana's Union Parish.

One of nine children, Hill worked in maintenance at a nursing home before health issues forced her to stop. She adored bingo and any card game, and always had "a bunch of lady friends," Turner said.

"She loved life; she loved her family and friends," he added. "Everybody really hated that this happened to her."

Turner said he thought his sister got sick while being treated at a dialysis center in El Dorado. When she tested positive, she was admitted to Jefferson Regional Medical Center, where she stayed for more than 10 days.

The hospital staff called Turner late one night to tell him his sister's heart had stopped. They wanted to know about her wishes for resuscitation if it happened again, he said. "I told them she was always a fighter, and we always want to give it the best chance she has," he said. She died about an hour later.

Roy Davis, 76, Lincoln County and Cummins Unit inmate, May 6. Davis, who died in the prison infirmary from covid-19, was a survivor of the deadly 1959 Negro Boys Industrial School fire.

He was quoted in an Arkansas Gazette news account about the tragedy that killed 21 of 69 boys locked in for the night at the reform school in Pulaski County's Wrightsville. Davis' story also was featured in a 2008 Arkansas Times article.

Conditions at the school were horrific, researchers reported later, with boys wearing rags, going for weeks without bathing or changing clothes and with no access to safe drinking water. Some had committed petty crimes, others were simply orphans.

Survivors of that fire "managed to claw their way to safety by knocking out two of the window screens. Amidst the choking, blinding smoke and heat, four or five boys at a time tried to fight their way forward through the narrow openings as the fire began to devour them," according to the Encyclopedia of Arkansas.

Davis told the Arkansas Times that he was the second or third to escape after prying off interior and exterior window screens. The first person in the window was afraid to jump and had to be pushed, he said.

Davis spent most of his adult life in prison, for crimes including murder. "He denies committing the murder," the Arkansas Times article said.

A 61-year-old Little Rock man, May 6. The father of three died at UAMS Medical Center.

An 81-year-old Maumelle woman, May 8. The mother of four worked as a registered nurse for many years at Saline Memorial Hospital, according to her obituary. She was a resident at The Lakes of Maumelle Health and Rehabilitation nursing home.

Mike Fox, 73, Little Rock, May 8. The New York native, Army and Navy veteran, and father of three studied microbiology and criminal justice in college, and later expanded his love of learning to history, world religions, politics and science, according to his obituary.

Fox's obituary said he was "very likely among the first Trekkies," the name for hard-core fans of the television series "Star Trek." He amassed "dozens, if not hundreds" of Star Trek memorabilia, including signed photographs, and met actors George Takei and Leonard Nimoy, according to son Talen Fox.

Mike Fox was a resident of the Allay Health and Rehab nursing home in Little Rock, where five residents have contracted covid-19 and two have died. Visiting John L. McClellan Memorial Veterans' Hospital on April 24 for an unrelated health issue, Fox tested positive for covid-19, his son said.

"He kind of had the expectation that 'this was it,'" said Talen Fox, who spoke by phone with his father after he was hospitalized. "He wasn't sure if he would recover, and if he didn't, he just wanted us to know that he loved us."

An 86-year-old Fayetteville woman, May 8. She was a resident at Brookstone Assisted Living in Fayetteville, where three residents have tested positive for covid-19 and three have died.

Morris Davis, a 70-year-old Lincoln County man and Cummins Unit inmate, May 8. Davis spent much of his younger life in California and moved back to Arkansas as an adult. He loved the outdoors -- gardening and fishing, particularly, his brother Montey Davis said.

Montey said he didn't know his older brother had contracted the illness until he got a call from a doctor asking for permission to take Morris off life support. "I had no idea that he was even sick," Montey said.

According to court and newspaper records, Davis was serving a 10-year term for manslaughter in the 2010 killing of his wife.

Freddie Stuart, 77, Walnut Ridge, May 9. He was a resident of Walnut Ridge Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, where 54 residents have tested positive for covid-19 and four have died.

A four-decades-long employee at Emerson Electric in Paragould, Stuart enjoyed music, dancing and trips to Biloxi, Miss., according to his daughter, Jennifer Williams. He developed dementia before he turned 60 and had been at the nursing home for several years.

The nursing home staff informed family members that Stuart had tested positive for the virus, but believed his physical wellness would help him fight off the disease.

He suddenly became unresponsive, was taken to a Jonesboro hospital, then back to the nursing home. Visitors weren't allowed at either place.

"It was real, real tough," Williams said. "We couldn't be there."

Opal Charlene Parmenter, 77, Walnut Ridge, May 10. Parmenter's friends called her "Charlie," said her daughter, Lisa Brimble.

A generous spirit who "would help anybody," Parmenter was an animal lover who always kept dogs. Divorced when her three children were small, she worked different jobs, including for the John Deere company in Iowa.

"She worked very hard all of her life," Brimble said. "Supporting three kids, that's hard."

Parmenter eventually remarried. She moved into Walnut Ridge Nursing and Rehabilitation Center about five years ago and developed dementia. Brimble said Parmenter's siblings and her kids would have liked to see her before she died, but that wasn't possible because of visitor restrictions.

"She went to the hospital once, and they wouldn't even let us in the hospital, in the covid ward," she added.

Parmenter's home in Jonesboro, where her second husband still lived, was destroyed by a tornado earlier this year.

Norman "Norm" Moyer, 67, Conway, May 11. The United Methodist pastor and his wife, Bonda, developed coughs in early March and were tested March 25 for the virus.

They were admitted to a Conway hospital March 27, the same day their tests came back positive. She was released three days later. He stayed, worsened and was placed on a ventilator April 1, his wife said.

"Norm was a faithful United Methodist minister with an artist's soul, who was able to touch people deep in their souls," said Arkansas Conference Bishop Gary Mueller in an email.

"The way he fought his battle with Covid bravely and faithfully over many weeks witnesses to his deep faith in God's grace. He now is part of the Church Triumphant."

Robert Burmingham, 54, Lincoln County and Cummins Unit prison, May 13

The so-called blue-light rapist, who was convicted of using flashing blue lights to pull over and attack female motorists, died while serving a life term, officials said.

A Pulaski County coroner's report said Burmingham tested positive for covid-19 and was admitted to the UAMS Medical Center before his death.

An 83-year-old Lawrence County man, May 14. He was a resident of Walnut Ridge Nursing and Rehabilitation Center.

A 91-year-old Maumelle woman, May 16. She was a resident of The Lakes at Maumelle nursing home.

A 73-year-old Little Rock man, May 17. The man, who had a history of health problems, including cancer and heart disease, was admitted to Baptist Medical Center with respiratory failure, according to a coroner's report. There he tested positive for covid-19.

A 49-year-old El Dorado man, May 18. One of the younger covid-19 victims, he died at the Medical Center of South Arkansas, according to a coroner's report.

Connie Taylor, 84, Maumelle, May 19. The resident of The Lakes at Maumelle nursing home tested positive for the covid-19 virus May 7 and experienced a "rapid decline," according to a coroner's report.

Her son Lynn Cook said his mother -- who lived in Pulaski County but had roots in Monroe County's Brinkley and Clarendon areas -- spent her life in service to others.

She worked as an activities director in nursing homes in Brinkley and Judsonia, and cared for elderly people in their homes, Cook said. Taylor loved camping, reading, watching the St. Louis Cardinals, and quilting, according to her obituary. The mother of five sons was known by friends and family as "Me Maw Connie."

A 91-year-old Walnut Ridge woman, May 20. She was another resident at Walnut Ridge Nursing and Rehabilitation who tested positive for covid-19.

A 95-year-old Little Rock woman, May 21. A resident of Allay Nursing and Rehabilitation in Little Rock, she was the second of that facility to die from the virus, according to state Health Department data.

A 76-year-old Jacksonville woman, May 23. Admitted to the UAMS Medical Center May 17 with shortness of breath, she tested positive for covid-19, according to a coroner's report.

Myra Nelson, 90, El Dorado, May 24. Nelson tested positive for the virus May 17 while at the Courtyard Healthcare and Rehabilitation Center in El Dorado.

"She was dehydrated," said Karla Nelson, her daughter. "They sent her to the emergency room in El Dorado, where they gave her fluids, then transported her to Little Rock. She was very sick. Covid had attacked her kidneys and was affecting her breathing."

The mother of three was an organized and productive homemaker. Her daughter remembers her as "sweet" and always working on "little projects" to help others.

"We didn't eat out at restaurants. We had three hot, home-cooked meals a day," Karla Nelson said. "She always had a certain task she would do every day, whether it was dusting on Monday or mopping the next."

The El Dorado nursing home has reported 35 residents testing positive for covid-19 and one death.

"I got to see her before she passed away," her daughter said. "The nurse let me look through the window."

A 60-year-old Lincoln County man and Cummins Unit prison inmate, May 26. He died at UAMS Medical Center.

Stella Gentry, 90, Maumelle, May 27. Another resident of The Lakes at Maumelle Health and Rehabilitation, she was in good enough health to wheel herself around the facility and perform many personal tasks, said her granddaughter, Jennifer Williams.

Gentry tested negative for the virus at the nursing home in early May, but was admitted to a hospital May 16 with shortness of breath and other symptoms. There, she tested positive.

Gentry and her late husband had built a house on Old Country Lane in Cabot decades before the city experienced a population boom.

"She was a homemaker. She had the best gardening skills you could imagine," Williams said. "She had a half-acre garden where she canned and had bees, cows and pigs. It was just a beautiful garden."

Growing up, Williams said, she spent most weekends with her grandmother and grandfather.

"She cooked all the time and was a great baker and seamstress. She could sew anything, and she made quilts and clothes. Williams said her grandmother is being buried in a dress suit that Gentry made for herself.

Gentry "had a stroke and couldn't speak anymore, but she could say, 'I love you.' Up until covid, she could fight off everything. But she couldn't fight this off," Williams said.

A 73-year-old man, Pine Bluff and the Randall L Williams prison unit, May 27. Serving a 30-year sentence for attempted rape, he was admitted to Baptist Health Medical Center with shortness of breath and coughing, and tested positive for covid-19, according to a coroner's report.

An 84-year-old woman, Maumelle, May 27. Another resident of The Lakes at Maumelle Health and Rehabilitation, she was admitted to Baptist Health Medical Center on May 19 with shortness of breath, then tested positive for covid-19, according to a coroner's report.

Information for this article was contributed by John Moritz, Francisca Jones, Jeannie Roberts, Alex Golden and Lisa Hammersly of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

Lorraine Hensley (Special to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette)
Charlie Alston (Special to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette)
Roy Davis (Special to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette)
Mike Fox (Special to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette)
Freddie Stuart (Special to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette)
Opal Charlene Parmenter (Special to the Democrat-Gazette)
Norman “Norm” Moyer
Robert Burmingham (AP file photo)
Stella Gentry (Special to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette)

Finding the victims

There's no central source of publicly available information that lists covid-19 victims in Arkansas by name or city.

State health officials supply general information -- numbers of victims, their ages and counties.

The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette contacts county coroners for the state's 75 counties to obtain death reports, which are the only public records that contain names, addresses and causes of death.

Sometimes coroners inside and outside Arkansas delay supplying death records. And coroners don't receive information for some deaths that happen in hospitals.

Reporters also examine obituaries and other published material, and contact victims' families.

In some cases, family members speak about their loved ones' illnesses and give permission to publish names and photographs. Generally where the family declines or can't be reached, names are withheld for the "Lives Remembered" series.

If you have lost a loved one to the coronavirus and want to share that story, contact:

Lisa Hammersly


phone: (704) 242-3714

Eric Besson


phone: (985) 791-5375

Kat Stromquist


phone: (504) 512-0726

Ginny Monk

email: vmonk@

phone: (501) 960-0945.


Sponsor Content