William Franklin (Bill) Foster (1916–1992)
William Franklin (Bill) Foster was a longtime and influential member of the Arkansas House of Representatives. Serving in the state legislature for over three decades beginning in the early 1960s, he was particularly well known for his work on behalf of senior citizens.
Bill Foster was born on August 2, 1916, in Lonoke County. He was the oldest of three children born to Joseph R. Foster and Josephine Margaret Crutchfield Foster. Foster grew up in Lonoke County, graduating from Lonoke High School in 1934. In the midst of the Great Depression, he worked for the Arkansas Department of Transportation as a statistician for eight years. In 1943, with World War II raging, he joined the U.S. Army Air Force. Discharged in 1945, Foster returned to Arkansas and started the Foster Oil Company. He owned the wholesale oil distributing center, which operated in Lonoke (Lonoke County), England (Lonoke County), and Stuttgart (Arkansas County) for many decades, finally selling the business in 1982. At that time, he became co-owner of Wangle Company, a firm that did business consulting and provided investment services.
Foster married Mary Jane Gower. They had one son, William F. Foster Jr., who became a doctor.
Foster was active in the England and Lonoke chambers of commerce and was also involved with the Lonoke County Task Force for Abused and Neglected Children. He began his public service career as secretary and then president of the England School Board. He also served as Lonoke County Justice of the Peace.
In 1960, running as a Democrat, he won his first election to the Arkansas House of Representatives. A consistent and staunch advocate for the state’s senior citizens, he received much praise for his efforts over the course of nineteen years as chairman of the House Committee on Aging and Legislative Affairs, where he applied a fair treatment to all matters related to aging and senior issues as well as other legislative matters. Perhaps his most enduring legacy can be seen in the ongoing “silver-haired legislative sessions” that he pioneered. His co-sponsorship of the original legislation and his continuing support were critical to the effort’s early days, and the continuing sessions, forums in which seniors citizens have an opportunity to voice their concerns with the state’s legislative leaders, are a testament to Foster’s efforts. He was reelected fifteen times in a career that, after over thirty years of service in the Arkansas legislature, came to an end only with his death in 1992.
In 1986, the public library in England was named the William F. Foster Library. In May 1992, Foster received an honorary degree from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock (UALR). In April 1994, a part of the state highway around Cabot (Lonoke County) was dedicated the W. F. “Bill” Foster Highway in his honor.
Foster died on July 10, 1992. He is buried in Mulberry Cemetery in England.
For additional information:
“Foster Praised as Man of Vision.” Lonoke Democrat, July 15, 1992, pp. 1, 2.
House Resolution, Arkansas House of Representatives, 78th General Assembly, Regular Session, 1991. ftp://www.arkleg.state.ar.us/bills/1991/HR1083.pdf (accessed September 21, 2020).
Tyler, Mike. “Longtime State Rep. Foster Dies at 75.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, July 12, 1992, p. 1B, 8B.
“UCA Archives Receives Papers of Late Rep. William Foster.” Log Cabin Democrat, March 13, 2016.
William F. “Bill” Foster Collection. University of Central Arkansas Archives and Special Collections, Conway, Arkansas.
William H. Pruden III
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