James Levesque Shaver Jr. (1927–2021)
James L. Shaver Jr. became an influential figure in the Arkansas House of Representatives in the second half of the twentieth century. Over the course of almost four decades in the Arkansas House, he played an important role in shaping policy in numerous areas.
James Levesque Shaver Jr. was born on November 23, 1927, in Wynne (Cross County). The son of one-time lieutenant governor James Levesque “Bex” Shaver and Louise Davis Shaver, he grew up in Wynne and received his early education there, graduating from the local high school. He enlisted in the U.S. Navy. After he received an honorable discharge in February 1946, he attended the University of Arkansas School of Law, receiving a JD in 1951.
Shaver married Bonnie Wood on July 17, 1949; the couple had two children. He returned home to Wynne after receiving his law degree, beginning a practice with his father in the firm Shaver and Shaver. Following in his father’s footsteps, he quickly entered the political arena, winning his first election to the state legislature in 1954. The elder Shaver had served fourteen years in the House of Representatives and Senate and two terms as lieutenant governor (1943–1947) under Governors Homer Adkins and Ben Laney.
In a legislative career that spanned almost forty years, Shaver, who was commonly called “Jim,” was a member of the Legislative Council, the Rules Committee, and the Joint Budget Committee; he was the chairman of the Judiciary Committee. He authored legislation that established a new Arkansas Court of Appeals, and he also sponsored bills that resulted in a comprehensive revision and codification of the state’s criminal laws. He also introduced a bill designed to establish a jury wheel system for selecting jurors in Arkansas. The proposal, approved by the Arkansas Bar Association, was intended to make the process by which jurors were selected more fair. In addition, he sponsored legislation that called for all automobile dealers and salesmen to give “fair treatment” to the public. He also sponsored a bill that allowed people to choose their own eye doctor even when payment was coming from public funds, as well as legislation calling for a fee on transfers of the title of land or stock in domestic corporations. The latter was signed into law by Governor Winthrop Rockefeller as Act 239 of 1969 and was part of a larger battle over taxes that year. Shaver also secured passage of a bill creating a seven-member commission, the State Motor Vehicle Commission, to license automobile manufacturers and salespeople in Arkansas.
Shaver began his quest to become speaker of the House for the 1977–1979 session early, successfully out-organizing John Eldon Miller, who would ultimately succeed him. In addition to his work in the legislature, Shaver served as assistant to state attorney general Joe Purcell from 1968 to 1971.
At the same time, Shaver developed a highly successful law practice, earning a reputation as a well-respected attorney. Early in his career, he served on the Executive Committee of the Junior Bar Section of the Arkansas Bar Association and was also a member of the organization’s Public Relations Committee before he capped his career serving as president of the Arkansas Bar Association from 1982 to 1983. Into his nineties, he was still serving “of counsel” to the firm, which by then was known as Shaver & Smith, P.A. in Wynne.
In addition to his work with the state bar, he also served as the chairman of the Wynne City Planning Commission and vice president of the Wynne Junior Chamber of Commerce. Too, he became a deacon and served as president of the Men of the Presbyterian Church.
Shaver died on May 27, 2021, at his home in Wynne. He is buried in Cogbill Cemetery.
For additional information:
“James L. Shaver, Jr.” Cross County, Arkansas, Genealogy and History. http://genealogytrails.com/ark/cross/history1955_pg3.html (accessed August 9, 2022).
“Jim Shaver.” Arkansas Lawyer, July 1981, p. 94. Online at https://issuu.com/arkansas_bar_association/docs/july-1981_20100929_220639 (accessed August 9, 2022).
Obituary of James Levesque Shaver Jr. Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, June 2, 2021. Online at https://www.arkansasonline.com/obituaries/2021/jun/02/james-shaver-jr-2021-06-02/ (accessed August 9, 2022).
William H. Pruden III
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