Wilfred R. “Bud” Rice (1924–2009)
W. R. “Bud” Rice was a member of the Arkansas General Assembly for almost twenty years from the mid-1970s to the mid-1990s. A Waldron (Scott County) native, Rice was a successful businessman whose work in the legislature was just one element of a life spent in public service.
Wilfred R. Rice was born in Waldron on October 8, 1924, to the farming family of Worth Rice and Med Jones Rice. Growing up in Waldron, Rice helped his father on the farm. He was educated in the local schools, and wanting to fly, he joined the U.S. Army Air Forces in 1942. He served until the end of World War II, although he appeared to have shared little about his experiences. Returning to Waldron, he married his high school sweetheart, Thelma Lee Crutchfield. The couple, who were married for sixty-four years, had two sons and two daughters.
Following his return from the war, Rice began working as a trucker. He drove night and day, picking up butane. He wanted a change, and in 1950, he founded Rice Furniture and Appliance Store, despite being told by a local banker that he would never make it. The successful venture became a centerpiece of the community, expanding into three stores. His son later recalled that, rather than waiting for people to come to him, Rice took appliances to people in Waldron who had “rural electric instead of basic wiring.” He also provided the occasional color television for someone who could not afford it. He became a leader in the industry, at one point serving as the president of the Arkansas Furniture Association.
After establishing his business, Rice moved into public service. Seeking to follow in the footsteps of his father, who served in the Arkansas House of Representatives from Scott County from 1935 to 1939, Rice, a Democrat like his father, made his first run for office in 1976. That year, he won the first of nine terms, serving in the Arkansas House of Representatives from 1977 to 1995. He was also elected to serve as a delegate to the state’s constitutional convention in 1979.
Over the course of his legislative career, Rice developed a reputation as an advocate for improving mental health in Arkansas, and he sought to expand insurance coverage for mental health. In addition, looking out for his hometown as well as his district, he played a major role in making sure that Waldron received funding for highway improvements, an effort that would eventually lead to the development of the Greenwood bypass. He sponsored a range of bills designed to protect state and consumer interests. One measure called on the state to require all electric utilities in Arkansas to use a certain percentage of Arkansas-mined coal in producing their power (Scott County being a source of such coal). He offered another piece of legislation that would have made going-out-of-business sales by businesses that were, in fact, not going out of business treated as violations of the state’s Deceptive Trade Practices Act, thus allowing the state attorney general to prosecute them. Meanwhile, another proposal sought to protect volunteer rural firefighters from liability for any damage resulting from their efforts.
In 1991, Rice was one of only nine members who voted not to seat Representative Jimmie L. Wilson, whose term in federal prison was scheduled to start in the midst of the session. As former Arkansas House Speaker B. G. Hendrix observed of Rice, “He lived up to what he believed, and he was a solid legislator.” His son, who was also a member of the House, noted that his father “saw a need for people to have their voice heard in local government and wanted to serve people.”
Rice also served as chairman of the board of the Mercy Hospital of Scott County and was a member of the boards of both Chambers Bank in Waldron and the Western Arkansas Counseling and Guidance Center. He and his wife were active in Campers on Mission, a national Christian fellowship whose members preached the gospel while camping and working.
Bud Rice died on June 20, 2009. He is buried in Square Rock Cemetery in Waldron.
For additional information:
Clark, Jessica, “W. R. ‘Bud’ Rice: Legislator, Salesman, Advocate Dies at 84.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, June 22, 2009.
“W. R. ‘Bud’ Rice.” Arkansasgravestones.org. https://arkansasgravestones.org/view.php?id=595667 (accessed March 27, 2021).
William H. Pruden III
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