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John Robert Starr family donates historical gift to Dean B. Ellis Library

July 8, 2010 -- The Dean B. Ellis Library on the Arkansas State University campus at Jonesboro has received a major historical gift to its Department of Archives and Special Collections, said Dr. Brady Banta, ASU archivist.

The family of renowned Arkansas journalist John Robert Starr has donated its entire collection of his career and literary papers to Arkansas State University.

A former Associated Press Bureau Chief in Little Rock, John Robert Starr became managing editor of the Arkansas Democrat in 1978. He joined a dynamic team that presided over one of the great newspaper wars as the Democrat challenged the editorial, circulation and advertising revenue dominance of the Arkansas Gazette, the oldest newspaper west of the Mississippi. Ultimately, the Democrat won the war in 1991, and its owner, Walter E. Hussman, bought the Gazette’s assets to form one statewide newspaper, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

Additionally, Starr, a Pine Bluff native who died in 2000, was known to have a contentious relationship with former Arkansas Governor and U.S. President Bill Clinton that was often highlighted in Starr’s seven-day-a-week column. Banta noted that Starr’s frequent criticism of and communications with Clinton add to the collection’s historical significance.

Banta said Dr. Joel Gambill, recently retired chair of the ASU Department of Journalism, was pivotal in ASU’s securing of the John Robert Starr Collection.

“Dr. Gambill established contact with the Starr family about the collected works—some 35 boxes of material,” Banta noted.  “Because of his efforts, ASU will now have another in-house collection that will provide a fascinating look at the late-20th century political and journalistic landscape of Arkansas.”

Banta said it will take months to catalog the materials, and then Gambill will have sole access to the collection for a period of up to five years, in accordance with the family’s wishes.

“My mom, my brother Johnny, my sister Linda and I are pleased that my dad’s papers are finding a permanent home at Arkansas State under the direction of Dr. Joel Gambill,” said Rusty Starr, publisher of the Palatka (Fla.) Daily News and a 1976 journalism graduate of ASU.

“We believe the Little Rock newspaper war will be studied for years to come, and we are very proud of my dad’s role as editor of the Arkansas Democrat. We also believe the papers include insights into my dad’s various writings, including his seven-day-a-week column that held Arkansas politicians accountable for their actions. These papers truly belong to the people of Arkansas who my father endeavored to serve.”

Banta said the collection—at the least—includes correspondence, column clippings, information about the newspaper war from the perspectives of both newspapers, and information on Gov. Clinton.

“Arkansas State University is honored and grateful that Norma Starr and her family have entrusted Mr. Starr’s papers to the university’s care,” said ASU Interim System President Robert Potts, who met with Rusty Starr earlier this year when he was on campus as featured guest in the Journalism Alumni Speaker Series.

“John Robert Starr was clearly one of the most prominent figures in Arkansas journalism during an era of major changes in the newspaper industry,” said Dr. Dan Howard, Interim Chancellor for ASU-Jonesboro. “The university community and countless others will benefit from the Starr family’s generosity.”

The Arkansas State University Department of Archives and Special Collections also houses collections from ASU’s beginnings, with the V.C. Kays and H.M. Cooley collections; regional interest collections, including the Judd Hill and Mabel H. Gieseck collections; and political papers of former Gov. Francis Cherry and former U.S. First District Representative E.C. “Took” Gathings. Additionally, the department is home to the Mid-South Center for Oral History.

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Photo Cutline:  Dr. Joel Gambill, recently retired dean of the Department of Journalism, examines contents of John Robert Starr collection with Malissa Davis, assistant archivist in the Dean B. Ellis Library. --Photo by Ernie Rice.

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