Thomas Franklin (Frank) McLarty II

Frank McLarty was an Arkansas business leader who was prominent in the automobile business from the 1950s through the 1970s, expanding on the operation that his father, Thomas F. “Mr. Tom” McLarty, had been associated with in Hope (Hempstead County) since 1921. Along with acquiring other Ford Motor Company dealerships in southwest Arkansas, McLarty formed what would become the largest truck leasing system in Ford’s national dealer network.

Thomas Franklin (Frank) McLarty II was born on November 2, 1919, in Hope as the only child of Thomas McLarty and Kathleen Briant McLarty. He graduated from Hope High School in 1938. He married Helen Hesterly of Hope on March 14, 1943, and they had two sons, Thomas Franklin III (Mack) and Francis Briant (Bud). Serving in the U.S. Army during World War II, he distinguished himself in the 1945 Battle of Okinawa, where he was wounded in action. During his service, McLarty won three Purple Hearts and the Bronze Star.

McLarty returned to Hope after the war to work in the dealership that his father operated, Hope Auto Company, purchasing the dealership outright in 1954; he would later claim that he “mortgaged his house, his shotgun and all his wherewithal to buy a Ford dealership.” McLarty would also acquire the Ford dealership in Texarkana (Miller County) in 1957 and in Magnolia (Columbia County) in the early 1970s. He was known as a dapper, backslapping salesman and promoter who wore silk suits, French cuffs, and two-tone shoes, and the company flourished under his management. He was named to Ford’s national dealer board in 1960. Among his friends was then Ford executive and later Chrysler chairman Lee Iacocca. In the truck-leasing business, McLarty signed on early to the concept of leasing trucks that ferried eggs to grocery stores, but it was his son, Mack, who would transform the truck-leasing business into an entity that made the McLarty dealership a player on the national scene.

The McLarty dealership under Frank McLarty had entered the truck-leasing business in 1963 with a unique model that got the attention of Iacocca, still Ford’s president. The dealership would sell the trucks to the leasing company, lease them to major clients like J. B. Hunt Transport and Tyson Foods, and supply all of the parts and service through the dealership in downtown Hope. Two large service barns behind the dealership, facing the Missouri Pacific Railroad tracks on West Division Street, were built to handle the volume. However, as the new entity, M&M Leasing, began to get off the ground, Frank McLarty’s health began to decline. Mack returned to Hope in 1968 to begin the transition into management of the leasing company. In time, Frank McLarty relinquished control of the business to Mack and his younger brother, Bud. The umbrella organization, called the McLarty Companies, began to branch out beyond the auto business, establishing Hope’s first restaurant that featured a daily buffet and a quick-serve chicken restaurant that bore Bud’s name. It also purchased the Exxon distributorship in Hope in the mid-1970s. M&M Leasing’s offices were relocated to Little Rock (Pulaski County) in 1974.

Frank McLarty was also heavily involved in public affairs; he was appointed by Governor Francis Cherry to the Arkansas State Police Commission in 1953 and was a founding board member of the Hempstead County Industrial Development Corporation. He was a delegate to several state Democratic Party conventions and was active in the Rotary Club, the Hempstead County United Way, and the First Presbyterian Church. During his term as president of the Hope Chamber of Commerce, the current Southwest District Coliseum was built in Hope’s Fair Park in 1950. He served for many years on the board of Citizens National Bank in Hope and was president of the Bank of Blevins from 1964 until his death.

Frank McLarty died on July 13, 1977, in a Little Rock hospital and is buried in Rose Hill Cemetery in Hope. His wife, Helen, survived him by eighteen years. In his memory, friends and associates of McLarty set up a scholarship bearing his name at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS).

For additional information:
“Civic Leader, Founder of Firm at Hope Dies.” Arkansas Gazette, July 14, 1977, p. 14A.

“F. McLarty Heads 7,200 Ford Dealers.” Hope Star, May 23, 1960, p. 1.

Hughes, David T. “Frank McLarty, 57, Dies.” Hope Star, July 14, 1977.

“McLarty Scholarship Program Is Set Up.” Hope Star, July 19, 1977, p. 2.

“McLarty to Head Bank of Blevins.” Hope Star, May 23, 1964, p. 1.

Washburn, Alex H. “In Frank McLarty Hope Has Lost a Leader Who More than Anyone of His Generation Was Committed to This City’s Achievement.” Hope Star, July 15, 1977, p. 1.

Revis Edmonds
Arkansas State University

Last Updated: 11/11/2021