It was a while ago, but Roy Dempsey remembers it all in some detail. He was in High School here in Clinton, a junior, and a member of what would go on to be the 1953 state championship basketball team.
The team picture comes out, the night of the awards banquet celebrating the state victory, and he points out each player, their strengths and how that added to the team, the coach Rex Lovell and how his smarts made the difference. He digs in deeper, recalling those days, at times having to stop and stare out the window, gather the recollections of those long-ago years, those teammates, that championship.
The memories are somewhat renewed recently, Clinton having a half-time ceremony at the Jan. 17 game where Dempsey and J.C. Mayall were honored as surviving members of the ’53 team. Dempsey was presented his letterman jacket, framed.
The conversation took place in Dempsey’s comfortable living room in a Clinton neighborhood. Ultimately that’s where the story goes as the memories continue. That championship year – well recorded as such sports achievements are, and should be – led to other things, more things. He played football as well as basketball that year, then graduating in ’54.
He lived out on Burnt Ridge then, his family having gotten electricity, and a car, only a few years earlier. Things kept picking up speed. First after graduation was business college in Little Rock, learning bookkeeping. Then out west to work logging, made some cash and back to Clinton.
The bookkeeping was handy, getting him on as a county deputy at 20 years of age (so young that the age was left off the application) “collecting taxes and getting called when they needed law enforcement.” This was in the American draft years and a two year hitch in the Army followed.
(That’s the way it was in those years. It was hard for a young man to get hired knowing he’d soon likely be drafted. Dempsey said he joined and did his time to get it, in effect, out of the way, cut the suspense, as it were.)
Back to Clinton, the propane business, the bookkeeping skills coming in handy and leading to advancement, advancement leading to Little Rock, and elsewhere. In time back to Clinton and a GMC dealership, selling trucks from a business on the town square. This expanded, then Dempsey motors as a Chrysler dealer. It grew, but then the years Chrysler Corp. had its own problem, its bankruptcy, in turn putting the dealership out of business.
Some time in the oil fields, hard work, heavy weights and cold wind, then back to Clinton. He knew a lot of people of course, and then a career in politics leading to 18 years as treasurer.
Here he stops, wants to know where the reporter’s from, how he came to Clinton. The pride of knowing “pretty much everybody around here” requiring no stone left unturned.
His father, he said, was the one that gave a lot of shape to this journey. A disabled vet, he taught his son lessons that Dempsey said he carries to this day.
“Whatever you do, do it right,” being one, an interesting insight for someone who lettered in football and basketball, who kept the books for a growing community.
“And,” he adds, “If you can’t say something positive, don’t say anything.”
This is the one, the advice, which seemed to have the most impact. Sitting there going through the memories, seated in the comfortable living room, prompted at times by Barbara as time lines and memory collide. Stories of being up, of being down, of championship years, of climbing oil rigs in Alaska after Chrysler pulled the carpet out, of knowing pretty much everybody around here.
A moment here, looking at the framed letterman jacket.
“When I was going broke, when it was getting hard, I’d think about it and look back at the good things,” he said.
Then he smiled.