REDFIELD - Former Arkansas Supreme Court Justice Conley F Byrd, Sr., from Redfield, AR, died on July 19 surrounded by his family at the age of 89.
Conley Byrd was born in Sharp County, Arkansas, near Poughkeepsie, on January 14, 1925 to Robert and Artie Elizabeth Byrd. After graduating from Evening Shade High School in 1942 as valedictorian, even though he was offered a full scholarship to college, he was unable to afford the cost of books and had to turn down the opportunity. He knew he would be drafted so he joined the Navy and served in the Pacific theatre of World War II as a radar man on the USS Harold C. Thomas. Conley served in the Navy for two years, six months and four days, leaving after becoming a Third Class Petty Officer. Like many World War II veterans, Conley attended college on the G.I. Bill. He began classes at Arkansas State Teacher’s College, now the University of Central Arkansas, on his 21st birthday and then went to law school at the University of Arkansas, where he earned his LL.B. While there he met and married the love of his life, a lovely coed named Frances Hardin, was from Redfield, Arkansas. Conley and Frances were married for almost 63 years before her death in 2012.
Conley received his law license on June 5, 1950, and opened a law practice in Evening Shade, Arkansas. He soon realized that he could not make a living there even if he got both sides of every law suit, so he moved to Washington, D.C., where he worked for the Labor Department. After deciding that Washington was not a good place to raise a family, he accepted a job with Babcock & Wilcox Company in Barberton, Ohio. He and Frances soon came back to Arkansas though, never to move out of state again.
Back in Arkansas, Conley took a job with the Revenue Department during the term of Governor Sid McMath. When McMath was defeated for reelection, Byrd moved to Pine Bluff and went into practice with John Hooker. He was only in practice for a short time before he realized that he was not healthy enough to practice law. Justice John Paul Ward helped him get a job as the Court Reporter for the Arkansas Supreme Court.
On June 4, 1954, Conley was sent to the Booneville Tuberculosis Sanatorium with an advanced case of tuberculosis expecting to die. There, he received what was then an experimental antibiotic treatment and became one of the first tuberculosis outpatients in Arkansas. The justices of the Supreme Court graciously allowed Frances to hold his job, which she performed with some assistance, until he returned on November 1, 1954. Thereafter, Frances had to administer tuberculosis medication to him at home for several years.
Conley once again returned to private practice again on Nov. 1, 1960 in Little Rock, but left again private practice again when the opportunity came to be a law clerk for U. S. District Judge Gordon Young. Later, he joined Bill Butler and Omar Greene to form the firm of Butler, Greene & Byrd.
In 1966, Conley was elected to a position of justice on the Arkansas Supreme Court. He and his two sons, Conley Jr. and Paul, traveled through almost every county in the state of Arkansas campaigning, stopping in each small town to hand out cards and meet the local officials. They also traveled to all the Rural Electric Cooperative meetings that summer with the entire family to campaign. Frances held down the campaign office in the back of their house. He won the rural areas of the state by a significant margin, edging out his opponent, who carried the more populated areas.
Soon after his election, Conley and Frances bought land near Redfield, where they raised cows, pigs, chickens, and a large vegetable garden. He enjoyed taking fresh eggs to other people who worked at the court. Conley was known for wearing his cowboy hat and boots to the court, as well as his love for telling stories, some of which are suspected of having a measure of exaggeration.
In the mid-1970s, Conley was the victim of three automobile accidents. In each accident, his vehicle was struck from the rear while he was stopped at a red light. The accidents left him with severe and permanent back injuries. He had to stand to do all of his massive amounts of reading for the last three years he served on the Court before retiring on January 2, 1980.
While on the court, Conley was known as a frequent dissenter. He was proud of the fact that a number of his dissents later became majority opinions. His dissent defending the rights of a young mother, where he told the story of a mother hen of the bantum variety attacked a bulldozer to protect her day old brood, was published in many legal textbooks for years. He was also proud of his work helping to establish the Arkansas Court of Appeals. He often expressed gratitude to his mentor, Justice Paul Ward, who helped him at various stages in the development of his career.
After retirement, Conley opened a part-time law practice in Redfield for a few years. He worked with the women of FLAG. (Family Life America God), in a successful campaign to defeat a proposed new constitution for the State of Arkansas in 1980.
We will never forget his love of telling stories and his infectious laugh.
He said the motto of his life was “Each Day I’ll Do A Golden Deed.” When he was campaigning for the Supreme Court, the family was traveling to a REA meeting. They found a family stranded on the side of the highway. Their car had broken down and would not be repaired until after the weekend. They were traveling to a Boy Scout meeting in Mississippi. Conley and Frances helped them get their car to a repair shop, then drove back home and got their second car. Conley loaned the newly met family his car to use until their car got fixed. This is just one of many tales of his generosity.
Conley was a member of the Sheridan Church of Christ.
Conley was predeceased by his parents, sisters Peri Lee Byrd and Nettie B Shirley, and brother, Robert Lee Byrd. He is survived by sisters, Johnney Reynolds of Indianapolis, Indiana and Artie Lee Vaughn of Huntington, Beach, California; children, Conley F (Susan) Byrd Jr. of Redfield, Susan (Leon) Holmes of Little Rock, Paul (Jane) Byrd of Little Rock, Margaret (David) Dobson of Sheridan; special “adopted” children, Linda Eason and Peggy Hearne, And Thomas and Debbie Hughes; grandchildren, Tye Herring, Kelley (Wesley) Emeneker, Conley F Byrd III, Christin Byrd, Josh (Phoebe) Holmes, Jeremy (Jacinta) Holmes, Sarah Holmes, Hannah (Tomas) Voboril, J. Frank Holmes, Kate (Todd) Pantier, Maryann (Chase) Furrer, Whitley (Ben) Cates, Thomas Byrd, John Michael Byrd, Nathan Dobson, Nick Dobson, Shayne Paul Dobson; special “adopted” grandchildren, Jessica Cliffton and Megan Hughes; 16 great-grandchildren and another grandchild on the way; and a host of nieces, nephews and a great many other members of a large extended family.
The family extends a special thanks to Alfred and Rose Kimbrell, and Stacey Bearden, and neighbors Fred and Donna Oates for their generous assistance to Conley in his last years.
Pallbearers will be: Tye Herring, Josh Holmes, Jeremy Holmes,Todd Pantier, Chase Furrer, Ben Cates, Thomas Byrd and John Michael Byrd.
Honorary pallbearers will be: James Ray, Thomas Hughes, Cliff Eason, Skip Hearne, Alfred Kimbrell, and Larry David Garner.
Visitation will be Tuesday, from 5 to 8 p.m. at the Memorial Gardens Funeral Home in Sheridan, AR. The funeral will be held at the Sheridan Church of Christ, 901 N. Main St., Sheridan, Arkansas at 10 a.m. on Wednesday. Burial will be in the Redfield Cemetery.
In lieu of flowers, memorials may be made to the Sheridan Church of Christ, or the Redfield Volunteer Fire Department, 509 Sheridan Rd, Redfield, AR 72132 and Redfield Community Center, PO Box 35