Kay Kelley Arnold: Participant in Arkansas History

The room was filled with politicians and well-to-dos: the governor, lobbyists, senators and a handsome man in a bow tie. As a law student she was enthralled and excited by this opportunity: working for the governor of Arkansas. It was an honor and an ideal prospect.

Some mutual friends had told her about the job, and she was glad she’d jumped at the chance to work with Governor Bill Clinton and his staff. She could feel the possibilities enveloping the room like a fog. This was the place where Kay Kelley wanted to be.

This might not have been the exact scene Kay Kelley Arnold found herself in over 30 years ago, the first day she walked in to start her job working for Bill Clinton, but it very well could have been something similar. Nothing entirely significant, seemingly just a moment. Our lives are filled with these types of moments, which eventually prove to be of great significance to our future—and you could say it’s safe to assume that Arnold made the most out of those moments.

“It was an honor to [work for Bill Clinton], and it gave me the chance to learn about people and politics in a way that was interesting and up-close,” said Arnold. “It was a graduate degree in itself. I recommend public service to any young person who comes to me for career advice. You get to meet people working hard to make their communities a better place to live and sometimes play a small role in helping them do that.”

The Heber Springs native attended the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville, where she received a BA and MA in communications. After graduate school she attended law school in the evenings and earned her JD from the UALR Law School.

“When I was in law school, I worked at the Arkansas Arts Council, helping artists who taught in schools. Through that job, I met the most creative people and developed a love of all types of artistic expression,” she said. “My early career choices certainly helped me because I was given the opportunity to lead, to organize and to accomplish at an early stage of my career. Each new job benefited from the one before, without a doubt.”

Arnold is currently the vice president of public affairs at Entergy. She said the best perk of her job is working with smart people who are dedicated to making a difference in their communities. “I learn something new every day from them [the people I work with], and I love to be a part of a larger effort to make something happen,” Arnold explained.

Her early dedication and career choices certainly helped her, and it would not be exaggerating to say that her employment with Clinton affected more than her professional future. “My husband and I met during Bill Clinton’s first inauguration day in January 1979,” said Arnold about her late husband, Richard Sheppard Arnold. “The first day I went to work for Bill Clinton was the day I met Richard. Lucky day, huh?”

She was drawn to his humor, intelligence, kindness, humility, smile and, oh, to his bow ties. “He taught me everything important that I know,” said Arnold. “He was the greatest love of my life.”

Richard passed away in 2004, and Arnold says she misses him daily. “I am so grateful that we had the time we had together and that we had such a happy marriage, great love and friendship. We did not have children, but he had two daughters, Jane and Lydia, whom I love and adore.”

And how is she doing without him? “I have good days and bad ones, but anyone who loses someone they love will tell you the same thing. The hardest part is behind me now, and I am beginning to define myself again,” said Arnold. “I am a different, better person because of him and what he gave me.”

She is confident, accomplished and continually moving toward another great cause and personal achievement. She is an accomplished lawyer, businesswoman and friend. She continually rallies around worthy causes. In a word, she is passionate.

When asked what top three nonprofits she is currently supporting, her response further confirmed her passion for people: “My top three non-profits I rally behind now—only three? It can’t be! Poverty is the issue that I spend the most time thinking about these days because it robs us of our best potential. To name a few I care deeply about: those that protect our environment, like The Nature Conservancy, The Conservation Fund and the National Wildlife Federation.”

Arnold continued, “The support of music like the Arkansas Symphony and organizations that help people at the grassroots level to improve their economic status, such as Winrock International, the Inter-American Foundation and the Foundation for the Mid-South.”

Even after she’d listed eight nonprofits close to her heart, she couldn’t forget to mention a few more. “I can’t leave out education because it is the key to everything, and it is a great honor for me to serve on the Lyon College board. I can’t leave out medical research aimed at curing cancer, for obvious reasons, or organizations that focus on literature, particularly Southern literature because I love to read and it gives me such pleasure.” She finished with, “I’m sorry, but three just won’t do.”

Arnold said her most marked characteristic is not her drive to succeed but “a desire to improve and a persistence to change what needs changing.”

She is diligent, purposeful, and finds opportunities around every corner. “Am I successful?” Arnold pauses. “In some areas I have experienced success. It is a result of luck and diligence, quite likely in that order, as well as having a great group of people who make you look successful with all of their hard work. It does not happen alone, ever.”


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