Sheilla Joyce Ezelle Lampkin (1945–2016)
Sheilla Joyce Ezelle was born on August 23, 1945, in Rohwer, an unincorporated community in Desha County, to Lettie Lucille McIntyre Ezelle and James Edward Ezelle. She received her early education in the Desha Central Schools and graduated as salutatorian from Dumas High School. In 1966, Ezelle graduated magna cum laude from the Arkansas Agricultural and Mechanical College (now the University of Arkansas at Monticello) with a BS in education degree in social studies, and in 1981, she earned a master’s degree in special education from the University of Arkansas (UA) in Fayetteville (Washington County).
Ezelle, who had wanted to be a teacher since she was six years old, began her classroom career immediately after graduation. While teaching at McGehee Elementary School in McGehee (Desha County) in 1967, she married Damon Ray Lampkin, who ran the printing operation of the McGehee Times. They later moved to Monticello, where her husband worked at the Advance-Monticellonian and she worked in the Drew Central and Monticello School Districts, teaching math and special education classes and three times being recognized as Monticello Teacher of the Year. She also taught Adult Sunday School classes at the Second Baptist Church in Monticello.
After retiring from teaching after thirty years, Lampkin began volunteering in numerous civic organizations and for historic preservation causes. She served as president of the Northside Extension Homemaker’s Club and received the Drew Memorial Hospital Auxillian of the Year Award. However, her real passion was history and historic preservation. Lampkin wrote a weekly column on local history for the Advance-Monticellonian, published award-winning articles in the Drew County Historical Journal, interviewed and recorded more than fifty veterans of World War II for the Library of Congress Veteran’s Oral History Project, and served two terms by gubernatorial appointment as chair of the Arkansas History Commission. She also served on the boards of the Historic Preservation Alliance of Arkansas, the Selma Community Center, the Drew County Historical Society, and the Drew County Historical Museum. In 2008, Lampkin was named the Monticello-Drew County Chamber of Commerce Woman of the Year, and she received the Historic Preservation Alliance of Arkansas Award for Excellence in Preservation in 2011.
Lampkin campaigned for her husband, who was elected Drew County judge in 2002 and served for ten years. She then announced her candidacy for an open House seat in 2010 because she was concerned about the future of southeastern Arkansas. Specifically, she promised to work for “sustainable economic growth and development” and “more opportunities for our children,” so that the area did not continue to “lose too many of our best and brightest” citizens who had to seek opportunities elsewhere. In later campaigns, Lampkin also emphasized pursuing legislation for “more and better educational opportunities for our children and adults” and her support for the University of Arkansas at Monticello and its satellite campuses.
Lampkin proved to be a formidable candidate, undefeated in six contested elections. Her candidacy was endorsed by the Arkansas Education Association, the Arkansas AFL-CIO, and the Arkansas Sierra Club. In her first election in 2010, she led a four-way primary and won the runoff with 52 percent over Ross Bolding, and then won the general election with 67 percent over Republican Weldon Wynn. Running for reelection in 2012, Lampkin received 81 percent of the vote in the Democratic primary over Robert Cornelius and won with 57 percent in the general against Republican Gary Meggs. Only in 2014 was she unopposed in the Democratic primary, and she prevailed in the general election with a little over 55 percent over her Republican opponent Sonya Leggett-Ryburn.
Representative Lampkin was a member of the Committees on City, County, and Local Affairs; Public Health, Welfare, and Labor; and Legislative Joint Auditing during her first term. In her second and third terms, she was on the Committees on Agriculture, Forestry, and Economic Development and Education, serving as vice chair of the Education Committee and as a member of the Arkansas Legislative Council in 2015–2016. She also served by appointment of the governor on the Southern Regional Education Board Legislative Advisory Council.
As a freshman legislator, Lampkin attended to local issues, sponsoring legislation to separate the offices of sheriff and tax collector in Drew County (Act 92 of 2011) and amend the Solid Waste Management and Recycling Fund at the request of the ten-county Southeast Arkansas Planning and Development District (Acts 174 and 819 of 2011).
In subsequent terms, she addressed issues relating to children and education. In the 2013 session, she sponsored legislation adding instructional materials and resources to the Free Textbook Act (Act 511 of 2013) and to include developmentally disabled children in state employee educational leave (Act 134 of 2013). She said that she was especially proud of a provision saying that abused and neglected children removed from their homes by the Arkansas Department of Human Services could be placed with “fictive kin”—a godparent, family friend, teacher, coach, or minister with a strong emotional tie to the child—rather than in a group home (Act 478 of 2013). “I have a heart and a passion for children, especially for children who go through this traumatic experience,” she explained. “I have great hopes for the positive changes this law will bring.”
In the 2015 session, she voted for Medicaid expansion and against guns on college campuses. She also sponsored legislation to create a Legislative Task Force on the Best Practices for Special Education in Arkansas (Act 839 of 2015). Reflecting on Lampkin’s legislative service, Representative Charlene Fite said, “She was unfailingly kind, thoughtful, and honest,” and Representative Kathy Webb said that Lampkin “was always willing to fight for those were not able to fight for themselves—kids, the elderly, people with disabilities.”
While running for a fourth term in which she would have been unopposed, Lampkin announced on July 19, 2016, that she was withdrawing from the race, because she had been diagnosed with ovarian cancer. “With surgery and chemo and the results unknown,” she said, “I felt it is only fair to you to elect someone to serve you faithfully and diligently.” After her death less than a week later on July 23, 2016, her House colleagues observed, “We all saw her at her best when the House hosted Girls State every summer. Just weeks before her death, she proudly showed the girls of this year’s class her shirt and hat she wore at Girls State more than 50 years before. She loved teaching young women about public service and the importance of civil debate.”
For additional information:
“Arkansas House: House Loses Friend with the Death of Rep. Sheilla Lampkin.” Magnolia Reporter, July 31, 2016.
Burgess, Joe. “One Monticello Life: Sheilla Lampkin.” Monticello Live, December 9, 2007.
House Memorial Resolution 1001, Arkansas House of Representatives, August 30, 2016.
Moritz, John. “Lawmaker Lampkin Dies, 70.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, July 25, 2016, pp. 1B, 6B.
“Re-Elect Sheilla Lampkin.” Campaign website. https://web.archive.org/web/20120816013828/http://www.sheillalampkin.com/index.html (accessed May 20, 2021).
Rice, Maylon. “Saying ‘Goodbye,’ as Sadness Comes to Ark. State House,” The Weekly Vista 3 August 2016.
Roberts, Jeannie. “Plan Expands Options for Youths’ Foster Care.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, April 6, 2014, pp. 1B, 7B.
Lindsley Armstrong Smith and Stephen A. Smith
University of Arkansas, Fayetteville
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