Patrick Henry Hays, the long-time former mayor of North Little Rock, died Tuesday morning after a valiant fight against cancer.
Hays, above, who served as Mayor of North Little Rock from 1989 to 2012 was the city’s longest serving mayor in its history.
He defeated then incumbent mayor Terry Hartwick in November 1988, and was sworn in that January. He then went on to serve six consecutive terms before retiring from the office and was replaced by Joe Smith, his former director of commerce.
Before running for mayor, Hays served a single term in the state House of Representatives he also considered a run for U.S. Senate, and ran against French Hill for Congress in 2014. It was the only race Hays ever lost.
Born and raised in North Little Rock’s Baring Cross and Park Hill as a son of a train man, Hays was a graduate of the legendary 1965 class at North Little Rock High School, several of whom went on or still serve on North Little Rock City Council.
Hays then went on to get his undergraduate and law degrees from the University of Arkansas before returning to North Little Rock.
He’s survived by his wife, Linda, daughter Josie, her husband Dr. Brent Staggs, and three grandchildren, Savanna, Isabella, and Harper.
Hays had a singular vision for North Little Rock and used the city’s form of “Strong Mayor” governance to accomplish all of that and then some.
He transformed downtown North Little Rock by getting what is now known as Verizon Arena built on the North Shore in the late 1990s. That was followed a few years later by Dickey-Stephens Park, home of the Arkansas Travelers. In between was more construction as what’s now known as the Argenta neighborhood went from industrial to a sports, entertainment and dining destination.
The Hays name will live on at the Senior Center, which he pushed with the construction of Dickey-Stephens. And not just him, the grandchildren’s names also adorn bike trails running through the city.
“I knew Mayor Hays nearly my entire life,” Hartwick said.”I have known him as a close friend and as an opponent. He was a fighter until the end. I cared deeply about him and I know he will be sorely missed by all of us in North Little Rock.”
Funeral arrangements are pending.
Patrick Henry Hays was born Jan. 8, 1947. He would joke about sharing his birthday with Elvis Presley. Hays grew up in the Baring Cross and Park Hill neighborhoods. Hays graduated from North Little Rock High School in 1965 and attended the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville, where he obtained his Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science. He received his Juris Doctor from the University Of Arkansas School Of Law. He served in the United States Army Reserves where he attained the rank of Captain.
He served as Assistant City Attorney for the City of North Little Rock; elected to the 1979-80 Arkansas Constitutional Convention; elected State Representative for District 66 and served one term in the 76th Arkansas General Assembly (1987-88).
Hays was a member of the Democratic Party of Arkansas. He traveled across the country to help then Governor William Jefferson Clinton campaign for President of the United States. He later joined the Arkansas Travelers to campaign for Hillary Rodham Clinton when she ran for President of the United States.
He became Mayor of North Little Rock in 1989 and served until he retired in 2012 (24 years – 6 terms). During his tenure as Mayor, his accomplishments were many:
Pushed for and was instrumental in passing a one-cent sales tax to fund the construction of the North Little Rock Senior Citizens Center (which was named the Patrick Henry Hays Senior Citizens Center in his honor) and Dickey Stephens Park which opened in 2007.
Involved in the development of the Big Dam Bridge, Clinton Park Bridge, Broadway Bridge.
President of the Arkansas Municipal League 1994.
Board of Trustees Member of US Conference of Mayors**.
President and Chairman of the Board of Directors of ICLEI – Local Governments for Sustainability USA.
Member and Past President (twice) of Metroplan
Attended the Federal Crime Bill signing at the White House with President Clinton and former Municipal League Director Don Zimmerman.
Acquired World War II submarine – TCG Murat Reis/USS Razorback Submarine.
Board of Directors of the HU Lee Memorial Foundation
** Active for many years in the U.S. Conference of Mayors, he was elected to the Conference’s Advisory Board in 1996. In 1999, he was elected to the Conference’s Board of Trustees (13 members). He shared in the executive and policy-making responsibilities for the Conference. As a strong advocate of rail transportation, Hays served as Co-Chair of the Conference’s Rail System Restoration Task Force. He served as Vice Chair for Railroads and Passenger Rail of the Conference’s Transportation and Communications Committee. Hays was on the Conference’s Energy Committee for 15 years where he served as Vice Chairman.
In June 2003, Hays was appointed Chairman of Amtrak’s Mayors’ Advisory Council. Additionally, he served on the National League of Cities’ Energy, Environmental and Natural Resources Steering Committee, as one of 39 members who recommended energy and environmental policy to the governing body of the National League of Cities.
Hays was a recognized leader in community economic development, neighborhood revitalization, community-oriented policing, historic preservation, and recreation development. Hays’ vision for the city included development of the riverfront (or North Little Rock’s southern border to Little Rock) by adding jogging trails, pedestrian boardwalks, and similar green spaces from downtown west to the city limits at the Murray Hydroelectric Plant. That vision is alive and well and used daily by thousands of walkers, joggers, and bikers. For a time, the Delta Queen, a steam-powered sternwheeler, was docked at the city’s riverfront. Near the levee and beside the west side of the Broadway Bridge downtown, Shakespeare’s Macbeth was performed.
Hays said his biggest accomplishment in office was working with other central Arkansas governments (Pulaski County and Little Rock) to bring improvements to the whole region, such as Verizon Arena (now Simmons Bank Arena) in North Little Rock, the Clinton Presidential Center in Little Rock, and the several pedestrian bridges, River Rail trolley and bus system connecting North Little Rock and Little Rock.
Another achievement was the merger of the North Little Rock and Little Rock water companies into Central Arkansas Water (CAW) which would be important for generations to come.
Hays, like previous mayors, was proud of the 1,700 acre Burns Park which had its own nursery which provided perennial plants to ensure that the city’s flowers, trees, and other plantings kept the city looking its best year round. He expanded on former Mayor Casey Laman’s love and efforts which began in the late 1950s. The park now includes many amenities for visitors of all ages, including a Missouri Pacific Railroad caboose, two eighteen-hole golf courses, a softball complex, tennis center, soccer complex, and numerous pavilions for use by families and businesses.
Under Hays’ leadership, North Little Rock was the first Arkansas city over 50,000 to be selected for the Main Street Arkansas Downtown Redevelopment Program. With the help of the Downtown Booster group, this helped save the historic (downtown) Argenta neighborhood. Hays spoke of the “rebirth” and the “rebuilding” of the downtown business community and residential neighborhoods where houses comprise one of the first blue collar, working class neighborhoods in the state, he said.
North Little Rock was also the first city in the state to assign full-time police officers in high schools as security officers and counselors. The program later expanded to other schools.
During Hays’ tenure, the city was among the first to establish a citywide curfew for youth, 17 and under. Hays said, “It starts to place the responsibility on the parent.” As part of the curfew, the city started a Midnight Basketball Program at the Sherman Park Recreation Center. As part of the program, young people could go to one of the city’s community centers and were required to remain in recreation, job skill, health, computer, and other programs and activities. The program was available to boys and girls. Hays opened police precincts in housing developments and officers walked on patrol. The city also worked closely with the schools regarding truancy.
Hays also began “Operation Focus” where the city would focus on a one-square mile area periodically and bring in animal control, electric, street crews, additional police officers and more. The FOCUS was to clean up the area whether it be overgrown lots, replacing street lights, code citations, etc.
Hays led the city to receive a Federal Economic Development Administration Grant to help develop the city’s first industrial park with over 300 acres east of the city.
North Little Rock was also the first city to establish by ordinance, a Mayor’s Office of Volunteer Services. In 1993, volunteers contributed 8,714 hours of their time to city services.
Through a partnership with the country of Turkey, Mayor Hays and the city purchased the USS Razorback World War II submarine which made national news. The sub was towed from Golcuk and Istanbul, Turkey by an ocean-going tugboat by way of the Mediterranean Sea, Gibraltar, across the Atlantic Ocean, New Orleans, and the Mississippi and Arkansas Rivers. The submarine was the beginning of the Arkansas Inland Maritime Museum which also includes the USS Hoga Tugboat. The submarine was at the former surrender of Japan ending World War II. The tugboat was instrumental in putting out fires during the attack on Pearl Harbor.
Hays’ wife, Linda is a retired school teacher. They have a daughter Josie who is married to Dr. Brent Staggs, and three grandchildren, Savanna, Isabella, and Harper.
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