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The Young Man in a Hurry Just Couldn’t Wait For Her: Betty Allen Tucker (First Lady, 1992-1996)

Old State House Museum - Monday, August 05, 2019

 

When it came to his political aspirations, Jim Guy Tucker was a young man in a hurry to make it to Washington, D.C. He was a Marine Corps reservist who went to South Vietnam as an accredited freelance war correspondent to cover Arkansas troops, came home and got elected prosecuting attorney at age 27 and attorney general at age 30.

In his personal life, he wasn’t in a rush, though. He swore he wouldn’t get married before he turned 35. Then Betty Allen, the girl of his dreams, came along, and suddenly that timeline didn’t seem so important.

Originally from Brookhaven, Mississippi, Betty Jeanne Allen had earned her degree from UALR and was teaching elementary students in the Little Rock School District when Jim Guy met her through mutual friends Wayne and Frances Cranford in 1972. Before long, Jim Guy, who was one of Arkansas’s most eligible bachelors at the time, decided that he did not want to risk losing the “girl with the smashing blue eyes.” They married in November 1975, almost a year to the day before he was elected to Congress. Betty had now taken the whirlwind life as the wife of one of Arkansas’s up-and-coming politicians. For the next decade, the Tuckers would be involved in almost constant campaigns: for Congress, the U.S. Senate and for governor.

After the 1978 U.S. Senate race, Betty returned to school to earn her law degree, which she would do by the time her husband first ran for governor in 1982. By then, the Tucker household had grown to a clan of six, including Anna and Sarah Tucker and Lance, Jr., and Kelly Alworth (Betty’s children from her previous marriage to Lance Alworth). While re-establishing a law practice, Jim Guy and Betty went into the exploding cable television market, starting their business in their garage with three employees. In less than 10 years, it expanded into a multi-million dollar business with a presence in Texas, Florida and even the United Kingdom. Betty worked long, hard hours as a mother during the day and as a businesswoman at night, paying particular attention to the financial and legal affairs of the company.

Having earned financial security from their business and legal success, Jim Guy returned to politics in 1990 with Betty as his eager partner. He was elected lieutenant governor in 1990, and when Bill Clinton resigned to take his newly elected role as U.S. president, Jim Guy became the 43rd governor of Arkansas. Betty threw herself into her new role as the state’s 38th first lady, serving on the boards of the Arkansas Arts Center, Arkansas Children’s Hospital, the Campaign for Healthier Babies, the Arkansas Repertory Theater and the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation Race for the Cure. She also chaired the education committee at Second Presbyterian Church in Little Rock. For her efforts to serve Arkansans, the Arkansas Business Publishing Group honored Betty as one of the “Top 100 Women in Arkansas.”

After leaving the Governor’s Mansion, the Tuckers returned to their business interests. Betty stood by her husband’s side during his greatest health crisis: a liver transplant on Christmas Day, 1996, from which he made a full recovery. As Jim Guy transitioned into the role of elder statesman, Betty continued using her business acumen as development director for the Psychiatric Research Institute at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, raising funds and developing and enhancing donor relationships for Arkansas’s only academic mental-health facility. Betty has further built on her legacy by actively teaming up with five other of Arkansas’s first ladies to raise funds for the restoration of the First Ladies’ Inaugural Gown Exhibit that is now enjoyed by all Arkansans.

Indeed, Jim Guy could not wait for Betty. Arkansans now know why and are the richer for it.