Clayton Ponder (Clay) Farrar Jr. (1950–2021)
Clayton Ponder (Clay) Farrar Jr. was a longtime civic leader in Hot Springs (Garland County) as well as a respected historian and writer. He served as president of the Greater Hot Springs Chamber of Commerce, along with the nonprofit Hot Springs Fifty for the Future program, a public service organization he co-founded. Farrar championed efforts to revitalize Hot Springs National Park and led the drive to save it from being reclassified to a lower rank in the National Park Service, a designation that would have had a negative impact on the Hot Springs community. Farrar also helped secure federal funds to develop the National Park Visitor Center on historic Bathhouse Row in Hot Springs. Farrar’s most recent campaign was to repurpose the huge complex that was formerly the Army-Navy Hospital. This historic Hot Springs landmark was the first combined general hospital in the nation for both U.S. Army and Navy personnel. He also wrote extensively for The Record, the Garland County Historical Society’s annual journal, and was the author of a regular newspaper column about local history for the Sentinel-Record.
Clay Farrar was born in Hot Springs on November 27, 1950. His parents were Clayton Farrar, who was an attorney, and Dana Evans Farrar, who was active as an elder of the Presbyterian church in Hot Springs. His parents had met in 1946 when his mother was serving as a secretary at the Army-Navy Hospital, where his father was recovering following World War II.
After graduating from Hot Springs High School, Clay Farrar Jr. attended Rhodes College in Memphis. He studied to become an attorney, following in the footsteps of his father and his grandfather, Judge Virgil Evans. Farrar earned a law degree from Southern Methodist University Law School in Dallas, Texas. He returned to his hometown in 1975. At Farrar & Williams in Hot Springs, Farrar specialized in trusts and estate planning, eventually rising to senior partner.
In 1985, Farrar began working with friends to improve Hot Springs National Park, as well as to revitalize downtown Hot Springs, which was no longer in its prime. At the time, Farrar chaired the Governor’s Advisory Commission on Hot Springs National Park. Under Farrar’s leadership, the commission successfully lobbied the U.S. Congress for $6 million in order to create the National Park Visitors Center on Bathhouse Row at the empty Fordyce Bathhouse building. After extensive restorations, the Visitors Center opened in 1989, boasting a historical museum among its attractions. Today, the Visitors Center allows guests to learn more about the rich history of Hot Springs free of charge.
Along with Farrar’s service as an officer for the Greater Hot Springs Chamber of Commerce and the National Park Rotary Club, he was also a director of Bear State Bank and chair of c Foundation. He was known among those close to him for quietly making anonymous donations to a wide assortment of charities, especially those that were little known and struggling for funds.
Beginning in 2014, Farrar organized a series of programs for the National Park Rotary Club on the topic of improving downtown Hot Springs. His goal was to encourage a new wave of revitalization.
In 2015, he retired from his law firm after a forty-year career as an attorney. During the latter part of his life, Farrar spearheaded an effort to save the Army-Navy Hospital in Hot Springs. The Arkansas Career Training Institute (ACTI) had been housed in the former hospital’s main building until the unexpected closing of ACTI’s residential facility by the state in 2019. Farrar fought for the building’s preservation by enlisting a committee of local leaders through the Greater Hot Springs Chamber of Commerce, as well as recruiting other community advocates on behalf of the historic complex. In 2020, the building was included in Preserve Arkansas’s annual list of most endangered places.
Farrar died on February 27, 2021, at the age of seventy. The next day, his previously scheduled guest column was published in the Sentinel-Record. The article pointed out the advantages and challenges in preserving the landmark Army-Navy Hospital, in keeping with his legacy of community service.
A memorial for Farrar was held on March 23, 2021, at the Hot Springs Convention Center. He was eulogized as a quiet man of action, determination, and leadership. Along with a crowd of friends, in attendance were top-ranking municipal, state, and federal officials, including former president Bill Clinton.
For additional information:
“Clay Farrar.” The Record, Garland County Historical Society. http://garlandcountyhistoricalsociety.com/search (accessed August 17, 2022).
“Clay Farrar Obituary.” Echovita. https://www.echovita.com/us/obituaries/ar/hot-springs/clay-farrar-12380677 (accessed August 17, 2022).
Committee on the Future of the Army and Navy Hospital. “Opinion: Old Hospital Is a Federal Responsibility.” Hot Springs Sentinel-Record, February 28, 2021. https://www.hotsr.com/news/2021/feb/28/old-hospital-is-a-federal-responsibility/ (accessed August 17, 2022).
Gregory, Mark. “Clay Farrar: Attorney, Historian was City Stalwart.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, Northwest Arkansas edition, March 2, 2021. https://www.nwaonline.com/news/2021/mar/02/attorney-historian-was-city-stalwart/ (accessed August 17, 2022).
Kendall, Cassidy. “Clay Farrar’s Life, Legacy Remembered.” Hot Springs Sentinel-Record, March 2, 2021. https://www.hotsr.com/news/2021/mar/02/clay-farrars-life-legacy-remembered/ (accessed August 17, 2022).
“Mr. Clay Farrar, November 27, 1950–February 27, 2021.” Dignity Memorial, https://www.dignitymemorial.com/obituaries/hot-springs-ar/clay-farrar-10078084 (accessed August 17, 2022).
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