Robert S. McCord, photographer, reporter, editor, drummer, jazz enthusiast, husband, father, whose work in journalism included a groundbreaking lawsuit establishing the framework for the state’s Freedom of Information Act, passed away Saturday morning. He died from complications with pneumonia, following a lengthy battle with Alzheimer’s. He was 84.
McCord helped establish the local chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists (known at the time as Sigma Delta Chi), that lobbied to pass Arkansas’ Freedom of Information Act in 1967. The law was challenged within months of passing by North Little Rock Mayor Casey Laman, and McCord’s lawsuit went all the way to the Arkansas Supreme Court, where the law was unanimously upheld.
McCord, a career journalist, began working for the Arkansas Democrat while still in high school, and aside from a college stint as a big band drummer, never held a job in any other field throughout his life, though he never lost his passion and love of music. Born in Camden to his parents Mose and Myrtle, his parents and his sister Pat moved to North Little Rock when McCord was two. Aside from his time in school and the Army, he would live in this town the rest of his life, and acquire a wide circle of friends and colleagues.
When his father bought him a camera and set up a darkroom in his home, this became McCord’s way in the wartime newspaper business. In 1945, when newsrooms were dominated by female reporters, McCord found himself assigned to the crime beat, covering the events where other reporters could not go. In 1949, McCord would slip by the secret service to snap a photo of President Harry Truman and Governor Sid McMath parading down Main Street, which would get prominent coverage in the Democrat, and go on to win the Arkansas Associated Press Photo of the Year.
McCord attended the University of Arkansas, and worked his way up to editor of the University paper, The Traveler, by his senior year. It was there he met the love of his life, Muriel Stuck, his wife of 61 years, when she applied for a job at the paper. They were married in 1951. Drafted into Army for two years after graduation, McCord attended Columbia University on the GI Bill, getting his masters degree before returning to work for the Democrat.
From 1959-1969, McCord owned and operated his hometown weekly paper the North Little Rock Times, and it was there that a challenge to one of his reporters led to the Freedom of Information lawsuit.
He returned to the Democrat in 1969 as Editorial Page Editor, then Executive Editor, but the afternoon paper was toiling in the shadow of the more established Arkansas Gazette, and discouraged by declining circulation and weary of the newspaper war between the two publications, he would leave the paper in 1978. For the next three years, he would offer television editorials on KTHV and host the newsmagazine program McCord’s Arkansas on AETN, before being lured back to the newsroom by his longtime competitor, the Gazette.
McCord was an editor at the Gazette from 1981-1986, when the paper was acquired by the Democrat. He wrote a weekly column for the Arkansas Times from 1992 until he retired in 2006.
Throughout his career, McCord was the recipient of many distinguished awards and recognitions of his public service. He was a loyal member of the North Little Rock Rotary Club, a longtime Board Member of the North Little Rock Boys & Girls Club, and served on the Board of Directors of the First Commercial Bank in Little Rock.
He was national president of Sigma Delta Chi from 1975-76, and continued to fight challenges to the Freedom of Information Act throughout his career.
McCord is survived by his wife Muriel, his three children and their spouses, Kim, Jeff (Catherine Crane) and Stacey McCord (Susan Gunnels), and his three grandchildren, Robert Andrews, Dylan Andrews, and Benjamin McCord.
Memorial services were held Thursday at Lakewood United Methodist Church at 1 p.m., with a reception following the service at the church.
In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations be sent to:
• The Boys and Girls Club of Central Arkansas
• Alzheimer’s Assoc-iation
• Amnesty Internation-al
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