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Former Arkansas governor, U.S. senator David Pryor dies at 89

By Mike Heuer
Former President Bill Clinton laughs with former Sen. David Pryor after receiving the J. William Fulbright Prize for International Understanding at the International Monetary Fund in Washington on April 12, 2006. Pryor died Saturday at age 89, his family announced. File Photo by Kevin Dietsch/UPI
Former President Bill Clinton laughs with former Sen. David Pryor after receiving the J. William Fulbright Prize for International Understanding at the International Monetary Fund in Washington on April 12, 2006. Pryor died Saturday at age 89, his family announced. File Photo by Kevin Dietsch/UPI | License Photo

April 20 (UPI) -- David Pryor, Arkansas' 39th governor for two terms and its U.S. senator for three terms afterward, died of natural causes Saturday in Little Rock, Ark., his family announced. He was 89.

Pryor, a Democrat, graduated with a bachelor's in political science from the University of Arkansas in 1957 and three years later won election to the state's House of Representatives.

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He also earned a law degree from the University of Arkansas in 1964 while serving in the state Legislature.

After serving three terms as a state representative, Prior won a special election to replace U.S. Rep. Oren Harris in 1966.

While a member of the House of Representatives, Pryor advocated for the elderly and opposed the war in Vietnam.

He unsuccessfully challenged incumbent U.S. Sen. John McClellan in 1972.

"The real test of people and of men does not come when we accept our victories," Pryor said of his narrow defeat. "It comes when we accept our defeats."

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He spent the next years practicing law before seeking election as Arkansas's 39th governor. Pryor won the election with 66% of the vote in 1974 and served as governor the next four years.

His political career inspired another young attorney named Bill Clinton to enter politics around that time.

Pryor won a second term in 1976 and set his sights on the U.S. Senate in 1978, winning a narrow victory over two members of Congress at age 44 to fill a vacant seat.

While a senator, Pryor continued advocating for the elderly and improving conditions at assisted-care facilities across the nation. He won reelection twice before retiring from politics in 1996.

His son Mark Pryor also went on to become a two-term senator for Arkansas.

David Pryor's life and political career is remembered fondly by Democrats and Republicans alike.

"David Pryor's charisma and moderate politics made him a force at the ballot box for decades," Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a statement. "While the senator and I came up in different political parties, I, like all Arkansans, deeply appreciated his diligent stewardship of Arkansas and out interests during his public life."

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Former president and Arkansas governor Clinton expressed sadness on behalf of himself the former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

"Hillary and I are deeply saddened by the passing of our friend David Pryor, one of Arkansas' greatest servant leaders and one of the finest people I have ever known," the former president said in a statement posted on X.

Pryor "fought for progressive policies that helped us put the divided past behind us and move into a brighter future together," Clinton said, adding, "He was always one of America's greatest advocates for the elderly and ... was honest, compassionate and full of common sense. He really loved the people he represented, and they loved him back."

Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., said Pryor was an inspiring force while serving the people of Arkansas and the nation.

"His example served and will continue to serve as inspiration for our fellow Arkansans," Cotton said in an statement. "I extend my deepest sympathy and condolences to his family and loved ones for whom I pray his memory will always be a cherished blessing."

Pryor is survived by his wife, Barbara Jean, sons David Jr. and Mark, four grandchildren and a great grandchild.

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