WARREN — Robert Lee “Bob” Newton, Jr., 83, of Warren, Ark., died Saturday, August 3, 2013, at Bradley County Medical Center.
Newton was a leader in the Arkansas weekly newspaper business most of his life.
He was born September 25, 1929 in Little Rock, Ark. the only child of the late Robert Lee Newton and Lois Bell Hunter Newton. He was a 1947 graduate of Warren High School and a member of the Hendrix College Class of 1951 where he received a bachelor’s degree in history and political science. Newton served as President of the Hendrix Class of 1951 during his junior and senior years and later served on the Hendrix College alumni board.
After graduation from Hendrix, he worked briefly at the Bradley Lumber Company of Ark. in Warren then accepted a position as news editor of the Osceola (Arkansas) Times. Though he had little formal journalistic training, at Osceola Newton came under the influence of the late Sam M. Hodges, one of Arkansas’ most successful newspapermen.
In February, 1953, Newton was engaged by W.L. Love, Oscar Littlefield and James R. Moseley, then publishers of The Eagle Democrat, to serve as assistant editor of Warren’s weekly newspaper. He became editor in 1957, purchased stock in the business the same year, and in 1960 purchased a one-third interest in the business, later becoming sole owner. Newton also started a popular mid-week shopper publication reaching some 15,000 homes in Southeast Arkansas each week. He had wide business success with a “football pick-em” contest held each week during football season, prize-winning football editions of The Eagle Democrat, and the widely popular holiday section “Miss Merry Christmas.”
During his tenure as editor/publisher of the newspaper, The Eagle Democrat’s circulation more than doubled and the business made a transformation from “hot type” letterpress to offset and full color printing, making it one of Arkansas’ strongest in circulation and widely read weekly newspapers. Newton authored many articles for the Arkansas Gazette over the years and once contributed to a popular column “Arkansas Angle.”
A story he wrote in the 1960s caused veteran CBS correspondent Charles Kuralt to film several segments of his “On The Road With Charles Kuralt,” in Bradley County at Banks featuring Eddie Lovett and the Phoenix Library. In 1991 Newton compiled and assisted in the publication of “A Pictorial History of Bradley County, Arkansas.” In 1993 he published a second book, “Bradley County, Arkansas Family Histories.” Newton also researched and published a book on the history of the Warren YMCA. A former vice president and board member of the Arkansas Press Association, in 1998 he was honored with the Golden 50 Service Award by that organization. The tribute marked his years in journalism, from the Hendrix College Troubadour to The Eagle Democrat. Newton was known throughout surrounding counties for his columns “The Editor’s Notebook” and later “The Oldtimer’s Notebook.” Each fall he also wrote a weekly column entitled “Drugstore Quarterback” which featured football on the local and college level. He was a frequent contributor to Dave Campbell’s “Arkansas Football” magazine each fall, highlighting the Warren Lumberjacks and their conference foes. He was a voting member of the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame for more than 20 years.
Newton was a lifelong member of the First Presbyterian Church of Warren where he served as Elder and Clerk of the Church Session. He also served as a part time lay preacher to Presbyterian Churches in Drew, Lincoln, Desha and Chicot counties and was a past member of the Child Care Board of the Synod of Arkansas. Active in local civic organizations, he served as general chairman of the Bradley County Pink Tomato Festival and was emcee for 50 Pink Tomato Luncheons. Newton joined the Warren Rotary Club in 1957, served as president of the organization and maintained a perfect attendance record for 50 years. He was named a Paul Harris Fellow in January 1990. He was a past member of the Bradley County Quorum Court, the Warren City Council, and was a charter member of the Warren Country Club and the Capital Club in Little Rock. He was a past director of the Bradley County Library, and served on the boards of the Warren YMCA, Bradley County Chamber of Commerce and the South Arkansas Fair and Marketing Association. Newton was inducted in the Bradley County Pink Tomato Festival Hall of Fame in 2010 for his years of service to the chamber and the annual event. Newton was a 16-year member and former chairman of the Arkansas State Board of Education. He was appointed to his first term in 1975 by then Gov. David Pryor and served until 1991 under two consecutive appointments by then Gov. Bill Clinton.
He was a lover of good literature and classical music, particularly grand opera. He traveled to Memphis regularly in the 1970s to attend performances of the touring company of the New York Metropolitan Opera, and he maintained an extensive collection of classical and operatic music in his vast home library. In addition to his love of the arts, Newton was also an avid supporter of the Warren Lumberjacks and Arkansas Razorbacks, and maintained box seats at Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs. In 2005 he was named to the Lumberjack Hall of Fame. From 2004-2008 Oaklawn Park designated a feature race as the “Drug Store Quarterback Stakes,” in his honor. The race was featured on the Racing Festival of the South docket annually. The first winner of the “Drug Store Quarterback Stakes,” on April 3, 2004, was an aptly name horse – Buffalo Bob. Surviving is his wife of 33 years, Patricia Thornhill Sievers Newton; four daughters Lisa Sievers Llewellyn and spouse Michael, O’Fallon, Mo., Attorney Patricia Sievers Harris and spouse Jim, Little Rock, Ark., Hope Newton Cain and spouse Erwin, Como, Texas, and Caroline Newton Johnson and spouse Baker, Crossett, Ark.; 11 grandchildren; Brooke Llewellyn, Nashville, Tenn., Carter Llewellyn and Blake Llewellyn, O’Fallon, Mo.; Scott Harris, Little Rock, Ark.; Hunter Cain, Dallas, Texas, Averi Cain and Honour Cain, Como, Texas; Matt Johnson and spouse Kara, Shelby Johnson all of Hamburg, Ark., Chris Selby and Mackenzie Selby all Crossett, Ark.; two great-grandchildren are Khloe and Bryson Johnson, Hamburg, Ark.
He was preceded in death in 1979 by his first wife Jonalee Piper Newton. A celebration of the life of Robert Lee Newton, Jr. will be held at the First Presbyterian Church in Warren on Saturday, August 10, 2013 at 10:30 a.m. by Rev Dr. Dari Rowen and Rev. Phillip Faris. The eulogists are Maylon Rice and Hunter Johnson. Hunt Neely is the organist. A reception will be held after the service in the church Fellowship Hall. Memorials are preferred to Hospice Home Care of Arkansas, 3955 Central Avenue, Suite 6, Hot Springs, Ark. 71913; First Presbyterian Church, 212 East Church Street, Warren, Ark. 71671; or the Donald W. Reynolds Warren YMCA, 207 North Main Street, Warren, Ark. 71671. Online guest book www.frazerfuneralhome.com.