The Diane D. Blair Center
OF SOUTHERN POLITICS and SOCIETY

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

DIANE D. BLAIR
(1938-2000)

Diane Blair was fittingly recognized by the University of Arkansas with an honorary doctorate in May, 2000, after more than thirty years of involvement with the institution, first as an earnest graduate student, then much longer as a stellar teacher, and always, even after retirement, as an untiring friend. During that time she also emerged as a professional political scientist of considerable repute and a strong activist in the public arena. All the while, she maintained a busy and cherished family and social life.

Diane Divers Blair was born October 25, 1938, and reared in Washington, D. C. Her parents, William Keeveny Divers and Minna Rosenbaum Divers, were both attorneys and longtime public servants in the nation’s capitol. Little wonder, then, that when she received her baccalaureate from Cornell University in 1959 (cum laude, Phi Beta Kappa), she returned to Washington and herself turned to public service. Diane was first an analyst with the President’s Committee on Government Contracts, then a research assistant with a Senate Special Committee on Unemployment, and finally a legislative secretary and speechwriter for the senior Senator from Missouri, Stuart Symington.

In 1963, she moved to Fayetteville, Arkansas, as the wife of local attorney Hugh Kincaid. Thus began what was to become a lifelong commitment, a virtual love affair, with her new home state. Diane quickly settled in, becoming active in numerous civic and political organizations. She also undertook the master’s degree program in the newly constituted Department of Political Science at the University of Arkansas, which had only recently been divested from the Department of History. She completed the M. A. program in 1967.

Diane became a part-time lecturer with the University in the following year. No one recalls for a certainty, and the formal records are vague, as to when she became a tenure-track instructor. Nonetheless, she was promoted to assistant professor in 1979.

By that time, Diane had published articles in two notable professional journals and had received the accolade of Outstanding Faculty Member in the 1976 and 1978 issues of the Razorback, the University’s student yearbook. In ensuing years she added very, very substantially to this early record of productivity as a university faculty member.

Diane was responsible for two books. The first was the edited volume, Silent Hattie Speaks, The Personal Journal of Senator Hattie Caraway (1979). For this book she wrote a very long introduction that provided a strong setting for the Senator’s reflections as well as evaluated the significance of that journey through a distinctive public career. Diane authored the second volume as definitely a labor of love, this Arkansas Politics and Government: Do the People Rule? (1988). The book was among the earliest volumes in the series on individual states that the late Daniel J. Elazar established and edited for the University of Nebraska press. While not intended primarily for the purpose, it has become the primary text used in courses on Arkansas politics in the state’s colleges and universities.

Diane’s other publications included a considerable range of essays that she authored or co-authored for a wide array of publication outlets. These works, focusing especially upon Arkansas politics and upon women in politics, include twelve essays first appearing in books, twenty-one professional journal articles (two of which were reprinted elsewhere), and many book reviews and occasional works. She was also wholly or partially responsible for a considerable number of scholarly papers presented at professional meetings or in other settings.

As a professional, however, Diane’s first commitment was to teaching. She continued to receive strongly positive reviews from students throughout her tenure at the University. She was a recipient of the J. William Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences Master Teacher Award in 1982. Diane was faculty advisor to four student organizations at one time or another and an invited speaker at countless student functions. She also carried on a very extensive correspondence with former students.

While Diane came to the University endowed already with a strong commitment to public service, its requirement as a land-grant institution to provide such service along with research and teaching suited her very well. And she provided strong support to all three of the agencies toward which that service has traditionally been directed: the University itself, the profession, and the community (broadly defined as all levels of governing).

Space will not be devoted here to her sundry activities directly in support of the University except for two brief observations. To begin, Diane was involved from the Department of Political Science through Fulbright College to the University campus wide. Secondly, she was an avid worker and leader in behalf of women faculty members in the University environment. Those efforts included personal support of individual peers as well as efforts in agitation directed at administrators in support of women faculty.

Diane’s service performance with professional associations was indeed a demanding effort. She was President of the Women’s Caucus for Political Science associated with the Southern Political Science Association, 1988-1989. At one time or another she served on the executive council of five different associations, as chair or member of six committees for three associations, as a member of editorial boards for two journals, and as a section head for the annual meeting on one occasion for each of three associations. She was Recording Secretary for the Southern Political Science Association (1985-1986) and the Arkansas correspondent for the County Year Book (1975-1978) and the Comparative State Politics Newsletter (1979- 1999). In addition, she was a frequent contributor to annual meetings of five associations—and occasional others—as a panel chair or discussant or as a roundtable moderator or participant. All in all, Diane was a very visible representative of the University to the political science profession.

Community service with government agencies for Diane covered a variety of policy areas and occurred at the local, state, and national levels. She responded to needs presented to her, not just policy areas of substantive interest to her. For example, she served on the Board of the Washington County Emergency Medical Services from 1980 to 1982.

In 1971, Diane was appointed by Governor Dale Bumpers to chair the Governor’s Commission on the Status of Women, and in 1976, Governor David Pryor selected her to chair a Commission on Public Employee Rights. She enjoyed a very singular experience on Valentine’s Day, 1975, when she took the “pro” position on the E. R. A. in a debate before the Arkansas Legislature; the “con” position was taken by none other than Phyllis Schaffley, the “darling” of archconservatives in American national politics at the time.

Diane’s service activities were significantly associated with Governor, later President, Bill Clinton. He first appointed her to the Commission for the Arkansas Educational Television Network in 1980, a position she held until 1993. She chaired the Commission in 1986 and 1987. Her connection to public television was continued during the Clinton presidency when he appointed her twice, 1993 and 1997, to the Board of Directors of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. In 2003, the Board named its new boardroom in her honor.

Diane also worked in the Clinton presidential campaigns. Taking leave from the University for the year, she served as a senior researcher in the 1992 presidential campaign organization. She was also selected as one of the Arkansas delegates to the Electoral College that year. In 1996, she took a semester leave to work as a senior advisor to the Clinton-Gore re-election team.

Diane’s marriage to the noted northwest Arkansas attorney, James B. Blair, only doubled her strong connection to Bill and Hillary Clinton. Their friendship led to exchanges of messages and innumerable visits during the Clinton White House years.

Diane Blair’s life was a full one that was often recognized publicly. In 1977, she received the Fayetteville Business and Professional Women’s Award for “contributions to the City of Fayetteville .” That same year she received a Distinguished Service Award from the Arkansas Humanities Program and won the Rose Publishing Company Award for the best paper on Arkansas politics presented at the Annual Meeting of the Arkansas Political Science Association, a work entitled “The Arkansas Plan: Coon Dogs or Community Services?” The latter recognition was repeated in 1983 with a paper she co-presented with Robert L. Savage, “Regional Patterns in the Distribution of Political Opinions among Arkansans.” At the University of Arkansas in 1978, her work to “upgrade the status of women” was acknowledged by a Mortar Board Award. In 1979, she was selected by Arkansas Press Women for inclusion in the Arkansas Endowment for the Humanities publication, Horizons, 100 Arkansas Women of Achievement.

Diane’s book, Arkansas Politics and Government: Do the People Rule?, earned the Virginia Ledbetter Award in 1991, for the best book published about Arkansas history or culture in the years 1988-1990. She was a Guest Scholar at the Brookings Institution during Spring, 1993, and delivered the Harry Lee Waterfield Distinguished Lecture in Public Affairs at Murray State University . In March issues, 1995, 1996, and 1997, she was selected by Arkansas Business Magazine as one of the “Top 100 Arkansas Women.” In April, 1998, at the Annual Meeting of the Midwest Political Science Association, she was particularly elated when the Women’s Caucus presented a panel in honor of her work as a political scientist and educator. Finally, bringing this brief biography back to where it started, Diane was thrilled to be given the honorary Doctor of Laws by the University of Arkansas in May, 2000.

The thrill, unfortunately, was short-lived. Diane Blair died on June 26, 2000 . She did leave, nonetheless, a very considerable legacy, one that will be extended by the Diane D. Blair Center of Southern Politics and Society.

- Reflections by Bob Savage Department Chair 1988-1998

 

The Blair Center
of Southern Politics and Society
428 Old Main
Fulbright College of Arts & Sciences
University of Arkansas
Fayetteville, Arkansas 72701
(479)-575-3356
Todd Shields, Director
tshield@uark.edu