Calvin Ledbetter, Jr: professor, politician, philanthropist
If there is something more profound than the Ledbetter halls, it is the story of the man after whom they were named. A professor of tremendous reputation, an efficient politician, an incredible writer, a member of the army, and a philanthropist are only a few descriptions of Calvin Ledbetter, Jr.
Born in Little Rock on April 29, 1929 to Virginia and Cal Ledbetter, Sr., Cal Jr. made education his cornerstone early in his life. After graduating from Central High School, his love for politics led him to graduate with honors from the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University.
After earning his juris doctorate from the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville, Ledbetter served in Germany with the U.S. Army Judge Advocate General Corps from 1955 to 1957. He earned his Ph.D from Northwestern University in 1961.
Ledbetter single-handedly revolutionized the political science department of UALR (then Little Rock University) after his entry in 1960. The next nineteen years saw a little department grow into a department that offered some of the most sought-after programs in the country.
Most prominently, Ledbetter is remembered as leading the merger of the private Little Rock University with the University of Arkansas framework, a move that many educators believe was instrumental in establishing UALR as a benchmark for quality education.
Whether it was a law enforcement program for Arkansan police officers that produced many of the top officials in the justice department today, or the introduction of new programs such as public history and technical writing, Ledbetter spearheaded the development of the department. His innovations in UALR directly contributed to the growth of the college and indirectly to the state of Arkansas.
That was just the beginning for an ambitious Calvin Ledbetter. From the time he entered the House of Representatives as a Democrat in 1967 to the time he left in 1977, Ledbetter’s efforts were monumental in shaping the modern legislature and justice system of the state. He was a member of various organizations and conventions that fabricated and amended a number of local and national laws. Ledbetter also held various positions in advisory boards both for the government and a number of colleges.
“Dr. Ledbetter’s scholarship on Arkansas’s governors is a fine legacy, exemplifying his devotion to the state and his love of history and political science. I will always remember seeing that tall, lanky frame, briefcase in hand, heading out to work in the archives,” said Margaret Scranton, professor of political science.
If there was something as well known as Ledbetter’s work, it was his philanthropy. Ledbetter’s donations through grants and scholarships became a goal for students who wanted to pursue higher education. Over time the Ledbetter cumulative donation amount to UALR crossed one million dollars. Through this, Ledbetter aided many financially disabled students in Arkansas.
Apart from being a man of thought, Ledbetter made his mark as a man of words. He authored and co-authored a number of papers treasured by universities across the state. He wrote many books as well, the most prominent of which is “Carpenter from Conway: George Washington Donaghey as Governor of Arkansas, 1909–1913.” The book is a biography of George W. Donaghey, another reputed politician and well-known UALR benefactor. Ledbetter also contributed vastly to journals such as Arkansas Historical Quarterly and The State Government. Ledbetter’s writing style, like his life, reflects thought, intelligence and determination.
In spite of all things worldly occupying him, Ledbetter never forgot to return home; he continued working as a professor in UALR and retired as Professor Emeritus in 1997. Joseph Giammo, Chair and Associate Professor of the Political Science department explained Ledbetter’s post-retirement contributions.
“Cal had already retired before I started working at UALR,” Giammo said. “But he remained a constant presence in the department, auditing classes, continuing to do research, playing tennis with his fellow ‘Iron Men’, and helping to take care of any extra cookies that happened to be laying around the office.”
He was an incredibly kind and generous man with a great sense of humor and he is greatly missed,” Giammo said.
Even his untimely death on Aug. 10, 2013 did not stop his influence from spreading. He is the culmination of hard-work, passion, and brilliance, which lives on through the political science department, his family and the Ledbetter halls.
Political Science Professor Rebecca Glazier said, “Dr. Cal Ledbetter was a giant in political science and in Arkansas politics, but he also cared deeply about people and was an extraordinarily kind man. As a new faculty member joining the political science department five years ago, Cal made me feel welcome.
He would stop by my office to see how I was doing and to share political insights. When my son was born in 2012, we gave him the middle name Calvin, which was my grandfather’s name as well, and Cal Ledbetter never tired of cooing and smiling at that little boy. Cal was a great man. His presence is sorely missed but his legacy is enduring.”
Non-interview information sources are Encyclopedia of Arkansas and The Calvin Ledbetter, Jr. Papers.