Robert S. McCord, the 1975-76 national SPJ president, died April 13, 2013, in North Little Rock, Ark. He was 84.
McCord held several prominent journalism positions in Arkansas media, but his legacy lies in the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act, which passed the legislature without opposition in 1967. He spent the years since its passage working to preserve FOI in Arkansas, resulting in local suits and appeals (Lamen v. McCord) until, in 1968, the state Supreme Court upheld a lower-court decision in favor of FOI.
“If anything expanded the reach of freedom of information in case law, it’s because of people like Bob,” said Max Brantley, former editor of the Arkansas Times. “It was the reputation and the absolute integrity of Bob that is the foundation of the law.”
McCord joined SPJ, then Sigma Delta Chi, in 1961 and worked as an editor at the Arkansas Democrat and Arkansas Gazette before the latter closed in 1991. Mc- Cord worked with Brantley as an op-ed contributor to the Arkansas Times, and he owned the North Little Rock Times for a decade.
As noted in the December 1973 issue of Quill, McCord was a strong supporter of changing the organization’s name from Sigma Delta Chi. McCord, then secretary, favored the name American Society of Journalists, Sigma Delta Chi, though the motion was amended to Society of Professional Journalists, Sigma Delta Chi. A camp of members, including Mc- Cord, felt “professional” was redundant, but the motion passed.
John Thompson, another Arkansas journalist, met McCord when he joined SPJ in 1968.
“He was a very loyal person,” Thompson said. “He was always the first to take a stand or felt responsible to help in any way. Of course, in Arkansas journalism, he’ll always be remembered as the one who got our freedom of information act passed and updated, and was always the first to protect it.”
That FOI passion never faltered, even when McCord retired. Brantley recalled receiving calls from McCord whenever the Times covered open-government issues with city or county councils.
“He’d say, ‘They can’t do that. You’re not going to let them do that, are you?’” Brantley said. “He didn’t stop calling and he didn’t stop making suggestions. The passion was still there until the very end.”