When the news came on a sunny Sunday morning, a different kind of grief set in. Arkansas was mourning not just what we had had in Winthrop Paul Rockefeller, who preferred to be called just Win, but what might have been.
Who knows what other good things this still young 57-year-old lieutenant governor might have accomplished? Just as his father had before him. When the first Win Rockefeller succeeded Orval Faubus as governor, he made Arkansas the epitome of the New South of his generation.
Like father, like son. Whenever this Win Rockefeller walked into a room, hope was at his side. And civility. And vision. When the press would ask him the kind of pointed question we're particularly proud of -- specific, direct, not just timely but immediate -- Win would pause before answering, just as his father used to. For he seemed to have inherited his father's diffident manner.
Or maybe it was just any Rockefeller's acquired habit of trying to put people at ease, for people were always very much aware, at least at first, that he was a Rockefeller.
Or maybe the hesitancy came from his mother Bobo's side of the family, since his first language, learned in childhood in the bosom of his mother's people, was Lithuanian.
Or perhaps the diffidence came from those years spent in Swiss boarding schools and later, not very happily, at Oxford.
Whatever the reason he was slow of speech, it lasted only a moment, and then Win would take the subject and begin to soar, perhaps leaning back and crossing his legs -- that's when you'd notice the cowboy boots he always wore -- and proceed to discuss the matter on a whole higher plane.
Asked about one tax, he would talk of redoing the state's whole tax structure to make it fairer and yet more productive. Asked about what motivated him, he would go to the core of what now has become just a political slogan -- Family Values! -- but for him was the basis of his life.
Soon you would realize that, however sophisticated the words he used, or however tangled his syntax, this Rockefeller was really a familiar type in these parts: the good ol' boy with the best will in the world.
No man was ever more at home in the state he loved, or more devoted to its loveliness. As it says on the license plates, this is The Natural State, and he proposed to keep it that way.
However many or varied the pressures he would have to face, for he'd been a public figure from birth, there was always an assuring calm about the man. Whether he was fielding one more plodding question, or playing the spoons after dinner -- a frontier tradition -- he remained the same Win.