First couple step back in time to university campus
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (AP) – President Clinton and the first lady took a nostalgic trip through some old haunts from their days at the University of Arkansas on Sunday, accompanied by two of their oldest and dearest friends from Arkansas.
The president and his wife, Hillary, toured the campus with Jim and Diane Blair, who have been among their closest friends dating back to the early 1970s when both Clintons taught at the university.
Mrs. Blair left the university faculty, where she was a political science professor, last fall because of illness. She suffers from terminal cancer.
The Clintons and Blairs have been close for decades and frequently keep in touch by telephone. Often when they return to Arkansas the Clintons visit the Blairs in this college town or at their vacation home at Beaver Lake.
This trip was marked by added emotion, however, because of Mrs. Blair’s illness.
”They talk on the phone on a regular basis. They wanted to take this opportunity to spend some time with her,” said White House press secretary Joe Lockhart.
Accompanied by the Blairs, the president, first lady and daughter Chelsea took a meandering motor trip through town and through the university campus, stopping in front of the law school where both Clintons taught.
A black and gold brass plaque in front of the building commemorates the president’s and first lady’s days at the law school. ”Clintons on Law Faculty,” reads an inscription on the plaque, which also notes that Mrs. Clinton taught there and founded a legal clinic.
”That’s a nice surprise,” Mrs. Clinton said. It was the first time the Cintons had seen the plaque.
Then it was on to a fountain dedicated to former Arkansas Sen. J. William Fulbright, for whom Clinton once briefly worked on Capitol Hill.
Across the street is the university’s main building, one that had special memory for the president.
”Back in my former life, we restored it,” Clinton remarked, noting that the building had been constructed in 1871 during the Reconstruction Era. Its north tower is taller than the south one, he pointed out. When Clinton was governor some people in the state wanted to tear the building down, but he intervened.
”I don’t like tearing things down,” remarked Clinton.
Finally the motorcade, meandering past the football field, wound back through town to the Blairs’ house for dinner.
Mrs. Clinton’s friendship with the Blairs dates back to her arrival in the state in the 1970s. During their days in Arkansas, the young Clinton couple would turn to the Blairs for political advice.
In the 1970s, Jim Blair already was one of the state’s most prominent trial lawyers. Later he became general counsel for the Tysons Food Co., one of the state’s most powerful businesses.
Blair’s friendship with Mrs. Clinton brought headlines when it was learned that he had suggested Mrs. Clinton invest money in the commodities market. She did, and made $100,000 in less than a year on cattle futures.
”I was on a streak that I thought was very successful and I wanted to share this with my close friends,” Blair once told an interviewer, describing Mrs. Clinton as ”the best person at my marriage … a tennis partner and friend.”