Sidney Sanders McMath

Obituary Notice

Sidney Sanders McMath came into the world on Flag Day, June 14, 1912, in a dogtrot cabin on the "Mc-Math Homeplace" near Magnolia, Columbia County, Arkansas. He was the son of Hal Pierce "Pap" McMath and Nettie Belle Sanders McMath. He had as forebears, a Revolutionary War soldier who met George Washington; a great uncle who was killed in the Texas War of Independence ; two Civil War great-grandfathers ; and his father's father was Sidney Smith McMath, a sheriff killed in the line of duty. 

Young Sidney lived on the Mc-Math Homeplace, but the family moved around to such places as Taylor, Foreman and Bussey, Ark. It was at the latter he attended a oneroom school to read and say the Pledge of Allegiance as well as fighting another boy over the privilege of carrying Old Glory, a symbol for which he had a lifelong devotion. 

Life was fraught with all the difficulties and joys of the rural South. His memory could not recall a time he was not riding horses, hunting, listening to stories and choring, till, at age 8, he started picking cotton for a penny a pound. Shortly afterwards he rode a mule named "Old Mamie" to Magnolia with his sister, Edyth, sitting behind for some shopping. He bought a new cap, shirt, overalls, a collar for his dog and chocolate for his mother, which melted in his pocket on the ride home. 

In a word, he experienced the happiness unique to the American South. But he also saw something else: poverty, ignorance and injustice visited upon white and black by the legacy of slavery, Civil War and the so-called Reconstruction. 

In his autobiography, Promises Kept, he states: 

"My roots were planted deep in the South, the Old South, the South that remembered. The South that could not forget the memories of the Civil War and its aftermath, occupation by Union troops, carpetbag rule, economic depression, and hard times." 

As a boy he promised to do something about it. 

They went with Pap to the Smackover oil boom, then to Hot Springs, where 10-year-old Sidney felt the revolution of going from farm to town. Pap sold the horses and got a job, while Sidney felt his first paved street. (He would admit with a smile that paving roads henceforth became something of an obsession.) More importantly he went to public schools. 

Picking cotton succumbed to hawking newspapers to tourists, horses unsaddled for cars, and tales for movies and books; the oneroomer was exchanged for a school that offered speech, debate, history, English and drama. He was kidded about his accent but lost enough to play the lead in The Valiant - it won the state prize. (Yet he always spoke with a trace of the Deep South, purring out as a mellifluous lilt, soft and hard, gentle and charming, like the evening light just touching the cotton.) 

The final line of The Valiant was: "Cowards die many times before their death; the valiant n'er taste of death but once." In a sense, it was his motto. 

He made Eagle Scout, went to Henderson and the University of Arkansas; was class president, played Hamlet, got a law degree and was the honor ROTC graduate. The latter led to the U.S. Marines, fulfilling a childhood promise to wear the Eagle, Globe and Anchor and serve his country. 

A 2nd Lt. in '36, his commander was Lewis "Chesty" Puller and, after returning to Hot Springs to marry his sweetheart, Elaine Braughton, Sidney, seeing war on the horizon, returned to uniform in '40. He trained officers (including two future Commandants,) helped organized a new division; promoted to major, he ran the Jungle Warfare School on Samoa; went to Guadalcanal; led a secret landing on Vella Lavella; served on New Georgia and was the staff officer of the 3rd Marines during Bougainville campaign. He was cited for bravery, directed the Battle of Piva Forks to victory (the pivotal action), received a battlefield promotion to Lt. Colonel and was awarded the Silver Star and Legion of Merit. He retired as a Major General - was every inch a Marine's Marine. 

After the death of Elaine, he married Anne Phillips, his partner for almost half a century, as the post war years brought Hot Springs and the GI revolt. "We had fought for democracy abroad and thought we ought to have some at home." Sidney was elected Prosecuting Attorney and his GI slate swept to victory in a stunning defeat of an entrenched political machine. 

As a boy, Sidney had promised himself he would do something about Hot Springs and he did. 

In '48 this success led to two terms in the governor's office. During his tenure, he paved more roads than anyone, built the Medical School, fought for civil rights, defeated the Dixiecrats as an ally of Truman, repealed the "whites only" rule for the Democratic Party, helped Ark. A.M. and N., integrated the Medical and Law schools. But he also insisted on bringing rural electrification to the counties in the dark. This ran afoul of the utilities and they conspired to defeat him for a third term. 

Following this he organized his law firm with his good friends Henry Woods and Leland Leatherman and it became one of the premier trial firms in America. The young man who learned debate at Hot Springs High was eventually elected President of the International Academy of Trial Lawyers, as he, in his favorite scripture, strove to "to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; defend the fatherless, plead for the widow." 

He is survived by his wife, Betty Ruth Dortch Russell McMath and five children, Sandy, Phillip and Bruce McMath, Melissa Hatfield and Patricia Bueter; 10 grandchildren, McKenzie, Savannah and Ian McMath, Robert, Phillip and Sid McMath, Sydney Bueter Blackmon and Bonnie and Jennifer Bueter and Carl F. Keller III; and one great-grandchild, James McMath. 

Sidney Sanders McMath loved his family, Arkansas, the South and his country. He was as great a man as one can know or ever hope to know. And he kept his promises. 

The family requests that in lieu of flowers memorials be made to Henderson State University or Lions World Services for the Blind.

Funeral services will be held Wednesday, October 7, at 2 p.m. at Pulaski Heights United Methodist Church officiated by Reverend Victor Nixon. Burial will follow at Pinecrest Memorial Park. Former Governor McMath will lie in state at the Capitol Rotunda from 1:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. Tuesday, October 7th. There will be reception held at Pulaski Heights United Methodist Church following the interment in Pinecrest Memorial Park.

Arrangements are under the direction of Ruebel Funeral Home.

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  • I had met Governor McMath on a few occasions and found him to be a delightful and inspiring person. We will not see his likes come along again for a very long time. His generation, the "Greatest & Can Do", are slowly leaving us , but they leave us a great and proud heritage. May God Bless you Governor McMath and Angels guide your way to Heaven and Our Lord God.
    Stephen A. McIntyre
    Little Rock, Arkansas

  • A true friend since 1956, I will miss you always.
    Della Lu Tyson
    Del Tyson's Reporting Service
    Little Rock, Arkansas
  • The Governor was an inspiration to all who met him, and a grand friend.
    Carlos L. Crisp
    Marvell, Arkansas

  • Sid McMath was a friend of my parents and was our near neighbor for many years. He is one of the constants of Sebia's and my memories, always spoken of with endearment and respect by my parents, Col. W.A. (Lefty) and Ellen Hawkins. Sebia and I are deeply saddened by this loss and extend our deepest condolances and really big hugs to the children and Betty, his loyal friend and companion. We were honored that Sid and Betty were able to attend the funeral of our own mother, Ellen, in September of 2002, one week after her 80th birthday; and we were shaped by the values that they and our parents held dear. He was another Dad figure to us and we send our love and share our tremendous respect for this great soul who walked with us and was one of us. He was a giant to us.
    God bless and Love,
    Sara L. Hawkins and Sebia A. Hawkins-Dunbar
    Little Rock, Arkansas and Santa Fe, New Mexico;

  • Sidney McMath exemplified the American dream and, as a Marine's Marine, he exemplified the best in Marine Corps ideals and valor. He will be missed, but the spirit of the man will live on in the hearts and history of America. Semper Fi, Marine.
    Marsha M. Allen/Brandi Allen Dailey
    Little Rock, Arkansas
  • A neighbor at West River, will you...a great man.
    Cecilia Hallman
    Little Rock, Arkansas
  • A second father to a frequent guest in his home, Governor McMath was a serene, wise and gentle man to me. Arkansas, the world and I are better for him. My condolences and love to his family.
    Stephen T. Higgins
    Buford, Georgia
  • I've known Sid a long, long time. He was a friend and will be missed.
    Robert H. Keys
    Past State Commander, VFW
    El Dorado, Arkansas
  • In honor of a great man, Govenor McMath would stop by Coffee Dan's for lunch when he passed through Damascus on Highway 65 on his way north or south. We proudly had his photograph displayed on the counter until the day the cafe closed. Then thirty years later in 2002 Coffee Dan was honored in Damascus and the Govenor showed up again to pay his tributes. What an honor and a surprise that was to us but that is the way he was - always thinking and doing for others. We considered him a friend and he will be missed. Our sympathy to his family, sincerely, 
    Nell and Dan Dipert
    Damascus, Arkansas
  • Babs Rollans
    Bryant, Arkansas
  • A true Southern Gentleman, he will be missed by all. I count it a blessing to have known him for the short time, when I worked for the Mc Math Law Firm. My sympathy to each of you.
    Kendra Rollins
    Bryant, Arkansas
  • My sincere condolences to Betty and the family...I knew Sid well, and Anne and I were in bridge club for many years. Unfortunately, I was unable to attend the funeral service, for recently, at 97, I moved to Louisville, KY, to be near my daughter, Anne, who gave me the news of Sid's death.
    Mrs. Paul O. Canaday (Mary)
    Louisville, Kentucky (Formerly of Little Rock, AR)
  • He was a great friend of the Ruggles family since the 1940's. When my sister,Lucille Ruggles, a paraplegic was in the hospital in Hot Springs, the McMath family would visit her and on occasion take her out to their home on the week-ends. He was such a kind and warm hearted person and we are saddened by the loss of a great man. Our condolances to each member of his family. 
    Wanda Ruggles Irvin
    Pine Bluff, Arkansas
  • Sid McMath was a friend to everyone. It was a blessing to know him when I was with the McMath Law firm. My sympathy to the family. Sincerely,
    Christy Hollis Naylor
    Dallas, Texas