Joyce Wroten (1940–2019)
Joyce Wroten was an influential figure in Arkansas higher education. After working in state government, including a stint on the staff of Governor Bill Clinton, Wroten moved to the University of Arkansas System, where she served as the chief lobbyist for three different UA System presidents. She also played a critical role in the development of legislation that put Arkansas’s share of the 1998 tobacco settlement into the state’s healthcare system.
Joyce Ann Ussery was born on April 26, 1940, in Perry County to Robert and Vida Ussery. She grew up and attended school in Perryville (Perry County). Ussery married her childhood sweetheart, Jimmy Wroten, when she was sixteen; they had a daughter and a son. Settling in Little Rock (Pulaski County) with her family, Wroten began a job at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS), where she headed student housing. After recognizing her need for further education, she entered the University of Arkansas at Little Rock as a non-traditional student.
Following the completion of her degree, Wroten began working for the Legislative Council of the Arkansas General Assembly. From there, she went to work as a member of the staff of Governor Bill Clinton. She subsequently served as deputy director in the Arkansas Department of Local Services. She then returned to the University of Arkansas System, where she worked for just over three decades, holding at various times the titles of Vice President for University Relations and Administration and Vice President for Government Relations.
Governor Mike Beebe observed that her efforts in creating the coalition that developed tobacco-settlement legislation, a law that directed the entire amount of the settlement into healthcare, was perhaps her greatest accomplishment. Meanwhile, Wroten also played a central role in helping found the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute at Petit Jean Mountain in 2005 after the Winthrop Rockefeller Charitable Trust granted the University of Arkansas System an almost 200-acre campus that had at one time been part of Rockefeller’s home and cattle farm. As one former system president recalled, she sought to “turn a former ranch into a world-class conference center, and she did just that.”
Her longtime involvement with both politics and education was on display even after she had retired. In 2015, in frustration with local politics and politicians, Wroten and Sherry Walker, a former teacher and one-time president of the Arkansas Education Association who led public policy campaigns as a consultant, created a new non-partisan political action committee. Named “It’s Time to Fix Stupid AR,” it was established in an effort to have the state’s politicians “at least show common sense and demonstrate that when [they’re] making laws that impact Arkansans every day.” The group’s accompanying website sought to expose the absurdity of some of the state’s recent legislative actions in a humorous way, and Wroten and Walker hoped to motivate voters to get involved and to hold their legislators accountable for their actions. While the idea for the “It’s Time to Fix Stupid…” website was launched in Kansas, the Arkansas effort was the next state to follow suit.
Joyce Wroten died on February 16, 2019, in Little Rock after a lengthy illness.
For additional information:
Obituary of Joyce Ann Wroten. Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, March 3, 2019.
Simpson, Stephen. “Joyce Wroten: UA System Exec Who Put Tobacco Money into Health Efforts Dies at 77.” Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, February 18, 2019. Online at https://www.nwaonline.com/news/2019/feb/18/joyce-wroten-20190218/ (accessed March 12, 2021).
Sweeny, Erica. “PAC Takes on ‘Absurdity’ of Politics… With Humor.” AMP: Arkansas Money & Politics, September 8, 2015. Online at https://armoneyandpolitics.com/pac-takes-on-absurdity-of-politics-with-humor/ (accessed March 12, 2021).
William H. Pruden III
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