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Winrock International

A life in public service: David H. Pryor, 1934-2024

David H. Pryor, the former Arkansas governor, U.S. senator and U.S. representative who previously served on Winrock International’s Board of Directors, died on Saturday at his home in Little Rock, surrounded by his family.

“I think he was a great model for public service. He was a great role model for politicians, but just for everyone in how we should treat each other and how we can make Arkansas better,” said Mark Pryor, himself a former two-term U.S. senator, in an Associated Press story about his father’s passing.

David Pryor was considered one of the Democratic party’s most influential in Arkansas, alongside former President Bill Clinton and the late U.S. Sen. Dale Bumpers. He served in both the U.S. House and the Arkansas Legislature before becoming Arkansas’s 39th governor in 1974, replacing Bumpers. He served four years before being elected to the U.S. Senate.

Jude Kearney, chair of Winrock’s board and a native Arkansan, remembered Pryor as a dedicated and accomplished public servant, and called him “A friend to the entire Arkansas community. I was a teenager when he served as governor of Arkansas. I’ll never forgot the aura of caring and wisdom the very young governor exuded,” Kearney said. Pryor served a total of 34 years as an elected official.

U.S. Sen. Dale Bumpers (left) and David H. Pryor, the former Arkansas governor, U.S. senator, and U.S. representative who previously served on Winrock International’s Board of Directors.

“We are profoundly saddened by the loss of David Pryor, who was a friend and supporter of Winrock International for decades,” said Joyjit Deb Roy, Winrock’s acting president and CEO. “He committed his life to public service and was an example for all of us.”

Pryor retired from elective office in 1997 but remained very active in public service, joining Winrock’s board in 1998 and serving for several years. In 2004, Pryor was named founding dean of the University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service, located next to the Clinton Presidential Library in downtown Little Rock. At the time, the school became the first in the nation to offer a Master of Public Service degree.

Pryor graduated from the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville and earned a degree from its law school. He was founder and publisher of The Ouachita Citizen, a weekly newspaper in Camden, Arkansas. Known as a champion of farmers, tax reform and the elderly, Pryor put his investigative skills to use while serving in the U.S. House, when he went undercover to investigate conditions in nursing homes, and later wrote about the experience.

David and Barbara Pryor on the campaign trail.

Pryor’s interest in history led to the establishment of the David and Barbara Pryor Center for Arkansas Oral and Visual History, around the time Pryor was Winrock board member. Part of the University of Arkansas’s Fulbright College of Arts & Sciences, the center’s mission is to document the cultural heritage of Arkansans by collecting audio and video resources to share with scholars, students and the public.

He is survived by his wife, Barbara, and three sons.