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OPINION: Hoyt Purvis: A real newsman, historian and fine, fine fellow

by Maylon Rice | June 7, 2023 at 4:00 a.m.

As you age, these once relished holiday weekends usually bring about that all-encompassing sad announcement of a friend's death. The announcement just as the Memorial Day weekend was beginning was of the death of Hoyt Purvis.

To describe Purvis in a few words would seem easy. But it is not. He was many things to many people but he was very, very good at one thing in particular that his friends of that fading generation, oh so, treasure – he was a friend, a true friend.

He was most often seen, out or on campus, with a folded newspaper under his arm. I ran into him most often as he dug out the mail from a post office box at the Fayetteville Post Office. Always ready with a friendly greeting and a sprig or two of political observations or a quick box score of baseball, he truly never met a stranger.

Born Hoyt Hughes Purvis, on November 7, 1939, in Jonesboro, he was a young man, seemingly in a hurry all his life. At age 14, he was already a gifted, hustling sportswriter, with his own radio show talking sports, while being an honor student at Jonesboro High. He would amaze many when he enrolled at the University of Texas in Austin. It was just a matter of time until he served as editor and sports editor for the Daily Texan, while earning a bachelor's and master's degree in journalism.

Purvis, from 1963 to 1964, was a researcher and writer for the Southern Education Reporting Service, reporting on school desegregation in the region in the truly newsmaking days of this struggle. He then became a political reporter for the Houston Chronicle, a job he left in 1967 to accept an offer to become press secretary for Senator J. William Fulbright, igniting a spark that would one day lead him back to Fayetteville, Fulbright's boyhood home, and the University of Arkansas.

Purvis served as press secretary and special assistant to Fulbright for six years – of the most storied days of the senior senator's service to Arkansas and the globe -- before leaving to become the director of publications and a lecturer at the Lyndon Baines Johnson School of Public Affairs at UT, a post he held from 1974 until 1976, when he joined Jimmy Carter's presidential campaign.

After Carter's victory, while Purvis was considering joining the administration, incoming Senate Majority Leader Robert Byrd of West Virginia, tapped him as a foreign and defense policy advisor to the senator and deputy director of the Senate Policy Committee. After four years with Byrd, Purvis left Washington D.C., to return to UT, although he continued to consult with the senator. Purvis was a senior research fellow at the Johnson School.

In 1982, Purvis began his 34-year teaching career at the University of Arkansas. When retiring in 2016, it was joked, it took him and Special Collections five years to clean out his office filled with newspapers, books, photos and a treasure trove of his personal memorabilia.

He also served as director and professor at the University's Fulbright Institute of International Relations.

One of his great loves had always been sports and he developed a new course in sports journalism. He was a lifelong fan of the Baltimore Orioles and was known at times to cheer on the St. Louis Cardinals, the Arkansas Razorbacks and, yes, his beloved Texas Longhorns.

Purvis was a regular panelist on Arkansas Week on the Arkansas Educational Television Network, as well as a columnist for the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette for 20 years. He served as an on-air political analyst for the local TV stations.

Locally, many will recall he was the secretary of the Washington County Historical Society, as well as the society's president from 2011 to 2013. In 2018, Purvis was named a Distinguished Citizen of Washington County by the Washington County Historical Society.

He was a fan of Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs and major league baseball. His sidekick for most of the travels the last 30 years was his lovely and ever-present wife, Marion, known as Mary to many of us. He always smiled when asked about her or as he spoke of her to others.

Hoyt will be memorialized soon at an outdoor service on the lawn of Old Main. He would have liked that.

I will miss him.

Maylon Rice is a former journalist who worked for several northwest Arkansas publications. He can be reached via email at maylon[email protected]. The opinions expressed are those of the author.

Print Headline: Hoyt Purvis: A real newsman, historian and fine, fine fellow


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