Ouachita Baptist University celebrated the formal opening of the Sen. John Little McClellan Collection Dec. 1 with the Ouachita community as well as many family members, friends and former staff members of the longtime U.S. senator.
“We’re so pleased at this university that we have the opportunity tonight once again to pay honor to Sen. McClellan,” said Ouachita President Rex Horne. “We remember again today the legacy of this public servant, and we also remember what future generations can learn from his work.”
Ray Granade (left), OBU director of library services, and Harry Lah (right) a student worker in
special collections, look on as President Rex Horne and Mary Alice McDermott, daughter of Sen. McClellan,
officially open the collection for research. Photo by Nicole McPhate
McClellan designated Ouachita as the repository for his materials in June 1976, due in large part to the work of then-Vice President for Development Ben Elrod. The papers came to Ouachita after McClellan’s death in 1977, and the project of arranging and processing the materials was completed in January of 2011; the collection has recently been linked to the national archives.
“It’s a joy to be here tonight and see the consummation of a process that started a long time ago,” said Elrod, who served as president of Ouachita from 1988-1998 and currently serves as chancellor. “It’s brought great joy to me to know that this great senator who spent so many years giving his service to the United States of America and was so effective in doing so has chosen this university to house his official papers.”
In addition to a ribbon-cutting ceremony and tours of the collection, Dr. Robert Blakey, who served as chief counsel to Sen. McClellan from 1968-1972, delivered a lecture as part of Ouachita’s Birkett Williams Lecture Series. Sherry Laymon was also available to sign copies of her new biography of the senator, Fearless: John L. McClellan, United States Senator.
Blakey currently serves as a professor in the Notre Dame Law School and is one of the foremost legal scholars in the nation. He was instrumental in crafting the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act as McClellan’s chief counsel in 1970. He spoke anecdotally of his time on McClellan’s staff and of McClellan’s character.
“I was only there for about four years, and it was the most challenging, rewarding and productive four years of my life,” Blakey said. “You can say this is my life before Sen. McClellan, and this is my life after. … How privileged I was to have worked with him.”
Blakey described McClellan as a member of a past generation of politicians who were able to shape legislation through personal relationships and who “really cared about the American people.”
“I’ve heard people describe Sen. McClellan as a gruff old prosecutor. I don’t believe it for a minute. … He was a kind, gentle, loving man,” he said. “Sen. McClellan was invariably polite and respectful to everyone he dealt with.”
Emon Mahoney, who also served as a staff member under McClellan, shared similar sentiments at the ribbon-cutting ceremony.
“Robert Kennedy said he was ‘the most devastating cross-examiner I ever heard and always commanded the respect no only of his colleagues but also of the witnesses,’” Mahoney said. “His record as chairman commends itself to all those who follow him as chairman. He was invariably courteous, fair and impartial in that role.
“Sen. McClellan, you have inspired all of us and made our lives better by your example,” Mahoney added. “May you continue to influence future generations.”
Sen. McClellan (1896-1977) was a prominent member of the U.S. Senate, serving from 1942 until his death in 1977, representing Arkansas longer than anyone else in the state’s history and serving as chair of the Committee on Appropriations, the highest committee rank ever attained by an Arkansan in the Senate. He served for 22 years as chairman of the Committee on Government Operations and for 18 years as chairman of the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations. No other chairman of a congressional investigating committee in the history of the U.S. Congress has approached McClellan’s record of tenure as chairman, for either the number of investigations conducted or the results achieved.
Ouachita’s Birkett Williams Lecture Series was established in 1977 through a gift from the late Birkett L. Williams, a 1910 Ouachita graduate. His generous endowment established the lectures as an opportunity to extend the concepts of a liberal arts education beyond the classroom by bringing outstanding scholars and public figures to Ouachita’s campus.
By Brooke Zimny