Leon L. “Doc” Bryan (1920–1995)

Leon L. “Doc” Bryan was an influential figure in the Arkansas House of Representatives in the final third of the twentieth century. A Democrat, he served for almost thirty years, his tenure ending with his death in office.

Leon L. Bryan was born on January 31, 1920, in Coal Hill (Johnson County) to Arthur Hershell Bryan and Gertrude Elnora Jennings Bryan. Bryan grew up in Coal Hill and attended the local schools, graduating from Coal Hill High School in 1939. An outstanding athlete, he was a member of Coal Hill High School’s state championship basketball team. After graduation, he attended what is now Arkansas Tech University in Russellville (Pope County), where he earned letters in both basketball and track before receiving a bachelor’s degree in 1941. He maintained his ties to the university’s athletic program for years afterward as a member of the Tech Booster Club. After college, he served in the U.S. Navy during World War II, but he said little about the exact nature of his service.

Bryan married Martha Evelyn Chronister on August 10, 1940; they had two daughters.

Before he entered politics, Bryan was a successful businessman, becoming executive vice president of Capital City Business College while also serving as general manager of the Russellville School. For many years, he worked for Russellville Radio Station KLRJ (which later became KARV) doing play-by-play of both the Arkansas Tech and Russellville High School football and basketball games.

Bryan served in the Arkansas House of Representatives from 1967 to 1996. Over the course of his almost three decades in the legislature, he served on the Legislative Council, the Rules Committee, the Joint Budget Committee, the Committee on Charitable, Penal and Correctional Institutions, the Agriculture Committee, the Public Health and Welfare Committee, the Insurance and Commerce Committee, and the Revenue and Taxation Committee. He was also known as a devoted advocate for all levels of education. As a particularly influential supporter of Arkansas Tech, he played an important role in securing the legislation and the funds that helped ensure the completion of the university’s Special Events Center Auditorium. His work in the House was also critical to securing the appropriations necessary for the construction of Tech’s Witherspoon Art and Humanities Building, the J. W. Hull Health and Physical Education Building, and the Crabaugh Building.

The bills he sponsored in the House included one that required the state’s public high schools to offer driver’s education and traffic safety courses, while another allowed towns with a mayor-council form of government to hold their municipal partisan primaries in line with those for other offices, while those holding non-partisan primaries would hold theirs two weeks before the November election. He sponsored legislation that would have put open-cut mining of coal, gravel, and similar materials under land reclamation regulation administered by the state Pollution Control Commission, and he was an advocate of increased nurse training programs, as well as a sponsor of a bill to allow all citizens sixty and over to attend the state’s public universities and colleges tuition free. Meanwhile, in his role as an employee of the Arkansas Poultry Federation—he was one of a number of legislators who combined their legislative duties with lobbying, a practice loudly decried by reform groups—Bryan clashed with Governor David Pryor when he called on the state’s Department of Pollution Control and Ecology to lower the standards for Arkansas’s water resources, arguing that the existing higher standards hurt the state’s commercial interests and were more stringent than the neighboring states. Pryor made clear his opposition to any reduction and specifically cited Bryan’s proposal in stating his position.

Late in his tenure, Bryan served as Speaker of the House, assuming the office in 1993. In that role, he was quickly confronted with an unusual dilemma concerning the legislative calendar. While the state constitution required that the session open on January 11, a sizable contingent of the legislature’s membership was planning to attend former Arkansas governor Bill Clinton’s presidential inauguration. Consequently, one of his first actions, in conjunction with the Senate president, was to arrange a ten-day recess that began just days after a constitution-satisfying opening session.

Bryan was a member of the First Christian Church of Russellville, the Russellville Noon Lions Club, the Russellville Country Club, and the Russellville Airport Commission. He was also a member of the Veterans of Foreign Wars and the American Legion.

Bryan died of hepatitis on July 18, 1995. He is buried in Oakland Cemetery in Russellville.

For additional information:
“The Honorable L. L. ‘Doc’ Bryan.” Arkansas Tech University Hall of Distinction. https://www.atualumni.com/s/978/bp18/interior.aspx?sid=978&gid=1&pgid=1294 (accessed January 8, 2021).

William H. Pruden III
Ravenscroft School


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