Mena is a long way from about any place of big business or political heavyweight in Arkansas. But for years, the most important people in the state – and sometimes the free world – have found their way there and more times than not it was to see Bob Carver.
Carver was the Chevy dealer in Mena and a businessman who dabbled in other things as well. But what he dabbled in most was Arkansas Razorbacks athletics. For 38 years, Carver was the spotter on Arkansas football broadcasts, working closely with both Paul Eells and Chuck Barrett.
That's how Keith Jackson, now the color analyst on the broadcast team, got to know Carver. And, it was through travels to away games that Jackson got close to Carver. He'd travel to Mena, even when it was not on his route, to spend a day with Carver, picking his mind on almost everything.
"Bob was one wise man," Jackson said. "And I just loved him. You could learn so much about people and life by being around him. I might have a speaking engagement in Hot Springs and I'd use that as an excuse to make the loop around to see Bob and I'd end up staying the rest of the day and night."
Carver passed away earlier this week after fighting battles with stroke and a brain tumor. He had not been able to work on the UA broadcasts for the last four seasons because of poor health. Jackson didn't stop going to see him.
"What I always loved about Bob, he didn't sugar coat anything and he didn't tell you what you wanted to hear just to keep you as a friend," Jackson said. "He could be a grouchy old man at times, but that was not his inward self. That inward Bob Carver was an old softy and he'd help people over and over.
"I've been in Mena when someone came to his office in trouble, out of luck and he'd reach in his pocket. He'd help them, then growl at them a little to get themselves going. But he always helped. That's one of the things that Paul Eells told me pretty quickly after I started working on the games, stories about the way Bob helped so many. He didn't want people to know, but he helped a lot of folks."
And, he helped the Razorbacks. He donated transportation for UA coaches and administrators. Graduating players often went to Carver to buy their first cars. He'd find them used vehicles that they could afford as they got started in the work force.
Barrett said he was a dynamite spotter, with infinite wisdom of the inner workings of football. Most spotters can produce the tackler each play. Carver saw the entire play and gave the lead announcer the key blockers, generally multiple, and all who were in on the tackles. He had his hand signals down to communicate with both Eells, Jackson and later Barrett when he took over as the play-by-play voice.
Barrett said Carver tried to put him at ease the night before he would do his first game after Eells passed away. Then, there was a magical moment just 20 minutes before he went on the air.
"Bob passed me a note in an envelope," Barrett said. "And he left the booth for a few minutes. I opened it and it said, 'Don't try to be Paul, just be Chuck and you'll do great.' I'll always remember it. I've still got that note somewhere. And, he loved Paul.
"Bob was a great spotter. He saw the whole play. He had a sign with the forearm to the open hand and he'd point to the number on the board. That was who had the block and he was always right. Not all spotters can ID the block, but he could."
Jackson said, "Bob knew more football than he let on. He also was so close to the coaches that he'd have a few secret plays. He'd give them to us during the broadcast, like be ready for this or that. And sure enough, here they would be."
You never heard Carver on the broadcast, except for maybe some external smashing of a fist onto the table.
"There were emotions that would come out, really from me or Bob," Jackson said. "If it was a bad officials call, we both might slam the desk in the booth. But first, he was going to give Paul or Chuck what they needed. I never saw him miss a call on a first down. If he said they got it, they got it, maybe by an inch or two. He was right.
"But he was more than a spotter. He had the inside information on what was going to happen or the players. And, he loved the players.
"Well, he did have some favorites. He absolutely loved Steve Atwater and Quinn Grovey, those two in particular."
And, he loved Bill Clinton and the former President loved Bob Carver.
"When Bill was Governor, he'd go to Mena to see Bob," a former Clinton aide said. "And when Bill would come to Little Rock when he was President, Bob would be among the first people he'd want to see. They were extremely close."
It didn't surprise anyone that Clinton named Carver to the War Memorial Stadium Commission. Carver served on the commission for 36 years.
Coaches trusted Carver and sought his advice on critical matters, including their own finances. He was in the inner circle with many, including former basketball coach Nolan Richardson. Carver helped Richardson put on his charity golf tournament. Richardson grieved when he heard of Carver's passing Tuesday.
"It is a sad day for anybody involved with Razorbacks to lose such a special person as Bob Carver," Richardson said. "Mike (Anderson) let me know this morning and then I got a text from his sister and it was just painful to hear about the loss of such a great man. It is such a sad tragedy.
"Bob was as big a Razorback fan as anyone and did as much for this school as anyone," Richardson said. " He was a true fan – no matter whether it be basketball, football or baseball. He knew only one way to go as a fan and that was all out. His love for the Razorbacks were legendary and an inspiration to all of us.
"I think I can speak for all of us in saying that he was a guy that will be truly missed and it will leave an empty spot and a hurt in our hearts," Richardson continued. "We lost one of the best and he will always be remembered."
That's the way my family feels. Carver spoke at my father's memorial, chosen by my stepmother because of the way he cared for Orville Henry in his final years. Carver was picked by Orville to hand him a lifetime achievement award at midfield in War Memorial Stadium.
Often times, you'd see my father seated on the grassy banks at the football practice field (or at a bowl practice), with Wilson Matthews on one side and Carver on the other. Those three were together at the Cotton Bowl luncheon when the Texas highlights were running on a big screen from the 1969 Shootout.
"Let's get the hell out of here," Matthews growled. "This is nothing but a damn Texas pep rally."
Carver jumped from his seat and growled in a similar voice, "Hell, yes. I'll have a car at the front door. We're gone."
Bob Carver is gone, but his Razorback spirit will always be around. Mena grieves this week, as does the Razorback Nation.
Bob Carver with John Daly.
State of the Hogs: Bob Carver
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