Today's Paper Arkansas News LEARNS Guide Legislature Sports Core Values Puzzles Newsletters Public Notices Archive Obits Opinion Story Ideas

George Henson Wells

of Little Rock, AR, 1938 - 2019

George Henson Wells, a longtime reporter and editor at the Arkansas Gazette and Pine Bluff Commercial whose distinguished reporting on epic federal trials in the 1980s was widely praised, died Sunday, September 22, 2019 at Little Rock.
He is survived by his wife of 47 years, Kathy Gosnell Wells, his aunt, Mickey Wells of Baltimore, and his cousins, Betty Wright of Alexandria, John Christopher Wells of King of Prussia, Pennsylvania, Patricia Larkin of Sparks, Maryland, and Meredith Wells of Bryan, Texas. He was a member of St. Michael's Episcopal Church of Little Rock.
Wells, a native of Hot Springs and Camden, did two stints at the Arkansas Gazette sandwiched around careers at The Courier-Journal at Louisville, Ky., and the Commercial at Pine Bluff. The final 12 years were at the Gazette, where he covered the federal courts and agencies. After the Gazette closed in 1991 and was absorbed by the Arkansas Democrat, Wells free-lanced for several publications.
He was born Feb. 9, 1938, at Hot Springs, the son of George Hale Wells, an insurance salesman, and Annette Wilson Wells. While his father worked at construction jobs around the country during World War II, he moved with his mother to Camden, her hometown, and lived in an apartment over a grocery store. The family stayed at Camden until he graduated from Camden High School in 1956 and then moved again to Hot Springs.
Determined to have some kind of writing career, Wells enrolled at Ouachita Baptist College at Arkadelphia and edited the college's weekly newspaper, The Signal. He transferred in 1958 to the University of Missouri at Columbia to enter its celebrated school of journalism. He earned bachelors degrees in journalism and history in 1961 and a master of arts degree in history in 1963, while working as an editor at the daily Missourian, a community newspaper operated by the university.
Wells went to work in 1963 for the Gazette as a copy editor until he was drafted in the fall. He served most of two years at the Army's Redstone Arsenal at Huntsville, Ala., headquarters of the Army's Missile Command and the Space Flight Center of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, and then for two years was a reporter for the Courier-Journal at Louisville.
He yearned to return to Arkansas and Gene Foreman, the managing editor of the Commercial, hired him as the paper's city editor and then as its political and environmental reporter.
In 1971, he was given the Conservation Communication Award from the Arkansas Wildlife Federation, in cooperation with National Wildlife Federation and SearsRoebuck Foundation, for "outstanding contribution to the wise use and management of our nation's natural resources." The Arkansas Federation also awarded him its Golden Mallard Award "in sincere appreciation for efforts to save the Cache River Basin from destruction."
It was at the Commercial that he met a reporter, Kathy Gosnell of Monticello, who would become his wife. He studied at Stanford University in 1975 on a John S. Knight Fellowship, specializing in energy-resource studies.
In 1979, he returned to the Gazette as a reporter and was soon assigned to the federal courthouse, covering the district courts, congressional offices and federal agencies. The courts were still hearing civil rights cases and a spate of civil liberties and environmental lawsuits. The issues and the challenge of interpreting legal gymnastics suited Wells's scholarly impulses. He also freelanced to national specialty journals on those topics.
When the legislature passed a law in 1981 requiring schools to balance instruction on evolution in science classes with the biblical account of creation, the law was challenged in the U.S. district court. Expecting another show trial like the Scopes affair in 1925, reporters descended on the city. The judge and the lawyers for both sides kept the proceedings on the legal issues rather than on the attorneys (William Jennings Bryan and Clarence Darrow in the Scopes trial in Tennessee). The judge held that Bible verses were not science and that the law violated the Establishment Clause of the Constitution by promoting a religion.
Wells's careful and penetrating account of the daily trial of McLean v. Arkansas Board of Education and Mike Trimble's colorful sidebars were nominated for a Pulitzer Prize in 1982.
Judge William V. Overton, the presiding judge in that case and in the other major trial of the decade, the Gazette's antitrust suit in 1985 against the media company that owned the Arkansas Democrat, would later remark that Wells's reporting on the big trials were models of objectivity, accuracy and depth that newspapers would do well to emulate.
In 1985, he was awarded First Place in the Best News Division of the Arkansas Associated Press Managing Editors Contest, a professional competition.
After the Gazette was closed, Wells worked for The Daily Record newspaper for a time. Funeral service will be held at 2 p.m. Saturday, September 28, 2019, at St. Michael's Episcopal Church, with burial at Mount Holly Cemetery afterward.
In lieu of flowers, the family requested that memorials be made to the Pulaski County Humane Society, 14600 Colonel Glenn Rd., Little Rock, Ark. 72210 or the Special Olympics Arkansas, P.O. Box 16388, North Little Rock, Ark. 72231. Arrangements by Ruebel Funeral Home of Little Rock.

Published September 25, 2019

Ruebel Funeral Home
6313 West Markham Street, Little Rock, AR
Phone: 501-666-0123