Harold Lloyd Gwatney (1929–2022)

Harold Gwatney was a prominent Arkansas business leader best known for establishing one of the state’s largest Chevrolet dealerships, Harold Gwatney Chevrolet, which later became known as Gwatney Automotive Companies.

Harold Lloyd Gwatney was born in North Little Rock (Pulaski County) on August 17, 1929, one of three children of Bertha Chenault Gwatney and John Jackson Gwatney, who was a construction painter.

Gwatney began working at age ten to be able to purchase cloth so his mother could sew him clothes. Gwatney soon began working in his uncle’s garage, cleaning up and delivering automobile parts using his bicycle. He soon began automotive work and, by age twelve, purchased his first car, a Model T Ford. By then, he had become a skilled mechanic, repairing the car and selling it at a profit.

In 1944, he went to work as a mechanic at Critz Chevrolet (which later became Russell Chevrolet). He was employed there until he graduated from North Little Rock High School in 1947. A year before his graduation, he had become a certified Chevrolet mechanic.

Gwatney met his future wife, Syble Everee Watkins, while he was a senior in high school. They married in 1948 and had two sons.

In 1948, he enlisted in the Arkansas National Guard. By 1952, he had received a commission and attended the prestigious Army War College. He rose through the ranks and, from 1973 to 1978, served as the commanding general officer of the Thirty-ninth Infantry Brigade. He was instrumental in helping establish the National Guard Professional Education and Training Center at Camp Joseph T. Robinson. In 1981, Gwatney was commissioned major general and was appointed the state adjutant general. He served in that capacity until 1983. He formally retired from the National Guard in 1989.

In 1955, Gwatney was elected, at age twenty-six, as an alderman on the North Little Rock City Council. Due to his work on the council and throughout the community, he was named North Little Rock Outstanding Man in 1956.

In 1957, Gwatney established the business for which he would become famous. Using his long history with Chevrolet, he was able to obtain a Chevrolet dealership franchise in Jacksonville (Pulaski County). He resigned his position as alderman to avoid business conflicts and to concentrate fully upon his new venture. The franchise was first opened on West Main Street but later moved to its present location on Highway 67. Gwatney expanded Harold Gwatney Chevrolet into a total of six Arkansas dealerships in Jacksonville, Sherwood (Pulaski County), and North Little Rock. The company is now incorporated as Gwatney Automotive Companies. Along with his Chevrolet dealerships, Gwatney was awarded one of the first twenty-nine Saturn dealerships in the United States. Gwatney operated around ten Chevrolet and Saturn dealerships in Arkansas, Tennessee, and Mississippi.

Over time, Gwatney expanded his business interests into other fields. He owned a number of apartment complexes; established Harold Gwatney Realty Co., Jacksonville Properties, Dalco Enterprises, and Financial Properties Insurance Co.; and was a founder of Citizens National Bank.

In 2008, Gwatney’s son, William Alan (Bill) Gwatney, was murdered. Bill Gwatney had served as an Arkansas state senator and was chairman of the state Democratic Party, when, on August 13, 2008, Timothy Johnson entered the Democratic headquarters in Little Rock (Pulaski County) and shot him. Johnson was killed during a police chase in an attempt to apprehend him.

Harold Gwatney’s wife died in 2021. Gwatney died less than a year later on January 7, 2022. The two are buried in Rest Hills Memorial Park in North Little Rock.

For additional information:
“Harold Lloyd Gwatney.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, January 16, 2022, p. 4K.

Kron, Rick. “Gwatney Lived the American Dream and Left Indelible Mark.” The Leader, January 19, 2022, p. 4.

Mike Polston
CALS Encyclopedia of Arkansas

Last Updated: 06/30/2022