Two members of the old guard passed away recently, and their passing brought back a lot of memories.
Carolyn Robinson broke onto the scene in 1978, having gotten herself elected to the Pine Bluff City Council. Just Wednesday, Kamala Harris became the vice president of the United States. But in 1978, a woman on the City Council was -- well, it had never happened.
Robinson learned the ropes. And six years later, she ran for and became mayor of Pine Bluff. She became a force, handling the political end of the job as well as the business end. The reason there is a hotel attached to the Pine Bluff Convention Center is because of her interaction with Kemmons Wilson, the old Holiday Inn founder who had gone out on his own after retirement to start a new line of hotels -- one of which he brought to Pine Bluff.
As for her political nature, we are reminded of a quote from John Kenneth Galbraith, an economist from the John F. Kennedy era, who famously stated: Nothing is so admirable in politics as a short memory.
We are certain that Robinson took note of the slings and arrows that came her way, whether that was from a foe or a newspaper editorial writer, but she never gave one thought, at least in public, to those slights. It was as if they had never happened. If she got roughed up the night before at the council meeting, that was yesterday. The next morning, she would roll up her sleeves and move ahead.
People who worked with her, to a person, said that there was no gray area with her. If she told them something, then that's the way it was going to be.
She also had a good grasp of the theater of being mayor. Lake Pine Bluff, as it was called at the time, had gotten some bad publicity from the high levels of PCBs found in the fish in the lake. After the lake had been cleaned up, she set out to prove the lake's safety. To that end, she held a news conference, during which she cooked and ate a fish that had just been caught from the lake.
She stayed mostly clear of the political arena after she retired in 1992, but she kept abreast of what was going on in the world and would let those around her know how she felt.
Certainly, Robinson led the way for those who came after her. As former Mayor Debe Hollingsworth said: "She certainly broke the ceiling as far as stepping out there and being a woman. I applaud her for that. She did a wonderful job for our city."
Former Sheriff Boe Fontaine was equally identifiable in his role as Jefferson County's chief law officer. Fontaine was elected in 1999 and retired in 2006. His friends and co-workers spoke highly of him, and we can't help but think that his role as sheriff inspired his daughter, Kim Fontaine, to join in law enforcement.
The most generous comments about Fontaine came from Sheriff Lafayette Woods Jr. and County Judge Gerald Robinson, both of whom Fontaine inspired and helped politically.
Woods said that when he ran for sheriff in 2018, Fontaine reminded him to be humble, steadfast and focused on the people.
"When we last spoke, Sheriff Fontaine was full of life, and his deep love and appreciation for the people of Jefferson County was still very much evident," said Woods, who described Fontaine as a father figure to him.
Robinson said it was because of Fontaine that the county judge is where he is today.
"He stood by my side as a mentor and as a friend to help me succeed," Robinson said, adding that Fontaine believed in racial equality. "Not everyone stood by him because of his support for me, but Boe would say every day it didn't matter if he lost his race for state representative because he was going to stand by me because it was the right thing to do."
Leaders both, and two of many who pushed Pine Bluff and Jefferson County forward.