Bob “Sody” Arnold (1943–2017)

Bob “Sody” Arnold was a longtime Arkansas state legislator, representing Clark County in the Arkansas General Assembly for almost two decades, a longer tenure than any other Clark County representative.

Robert Clark (Bob or “Sody”) Arnold was born on October 6, 1943, in Camden (Ouachita County) to R. Myron Arnold and Glena Deaton Arnold. Arnold grew up in Arkadelphia (Clark County), where he was active in sports, especially in baseball and football. A lifelong St. Louis Cardinals fan, he took special pride in having been a member of the 1956 Arkansas State Champion Little League baseball team. He was also active in the Boy Scouts, earning the Eagle Scout rank.

Nicknamed “Sody Pop” or “Sody” because of his family’s long ties with the soft drink bottling industry, Arnold graduated from Henderson State Teachers College (now Henderson State University) in 1966 with an economics degree. He was an active member of Theta Xi Fraternity. He also played football for Henderson and participated in the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC), earning a reputation as a skilled marksman. He aspired to be an air force pilot, but instead he helped with the family bottling business.

Arnold was a successful businessman who became an active member of the Arkadelphia community. Tremendously personable, he first ran for office in 1976 as a Democrat, winning almost fifty-five percent of the vote in upsetting incumbent Darrell “Sam” Hasley in the primary before going on to win a seat in the Arkansas House of Representatives in November. Over the next eighteen years, he crafted a career noteworthy for its commitment to the people and his good humor and personal approach. He was an advocate of better roads and the higher gas taxes needed to pay for them. He secured a tax credit aimed at further economic development and then worked with Governor Bill Clinton’s administration to revise the legislation when a budget shortfall was discovered.

In a controversial move that some feared would hurt the camaraderie that was so important to the legislative process, he sought to restrict access to the House floor to all but members. He noted that, for some, the floor was their office and should instead be more conducive to legislative work, but even Governor Clinton opined that the proposed limits were likely excessive, and the proposal died. In 1985, Arnold sought to replace the song “Arkansas,” written in 1916 by Eva Ware Barnett and long recognized as the official state song, with another. Arguing that few Arkansans knew the words to Barnett’s work, he introduced legislation that would have replaced it with another song by the same name written by Billie Frances Taylor and Keith Hayes. However, when he learned that Barnett’s daughter had broken down in tears upon hearing of the possible change, Arnold withdrew his proposal.

Arnold was protective of the interests of the soft drink industry, but his efforts to serve that constituency almost backfired when a bill came before the House that would levy a tax on soft drink syrup. In an effort to kill the bill, Arnold added an amendment that would make the tax applicable to chocolate syrup as well, believing that the provision would make the whole bill unacceptable. To his dismay, the amended version passed the House and was sent to the Senate. The senators recoiled, however, refusing to even act on it, saying it would be an embarrassment to the legislature. The House refused to reconsider, and the bill died.

In 1994, with forced retirement from the House looming due to recently enacted term limits, Arnold sought the post of secretary of state. While he ran a vigorous campaign, one in which he called for the computerizing the state’s records as well as reducing the fees the state’s citizens had to pay for copies of their records, he finished fourth in the race for the Democratic nomination.

He was involved with a range of charities and organizations, including the March of Dimes, Easter Seals, the Arkansas Lung Association, the Arkansas Cancer Society, the Hot Springs Humane Society, and the Wildwood Center for the Performing Arts.

He and his first wife, Sandra Gaines Arnold, had a son and two daughters. Following their divorce, Arnold was engaged to Karen Sue Lackey when she died in December 2007. He subsequently married Laurie Nelson, and they were living in Hot Springs (Garland County) when he died on October 27, 2017.

For additional information:
Obituary of Bob “Sody” Arnold. Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, October 29, 2017.

William H. Pruden III
Ravenscroft School


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