As promised, David Koon has written our cover story this week on the occasion of the estate auction of Jennings Osborne. It's about not just Osborne's things, but also about the man himself and what motivated a life that flickered brightly on the Arkansas stage.
It's a David Koon masterpiece.
It comes with photographer Brian Chilson's giant (266 photos) slide show of the Osborne collection — eclectic, eccentric and hard to ignore, much like the man himself.
Jennings and I had been friendly since a reporter working for me at the Gazette decades ago wrote a story about a huge reward he'd offered for the family's missing pet, a miniature poodle if I remember right. Until then, Jennings had guarded his privacy and the work of his drug testing facility, then on University Avenue. But it wasn't long before he'd come out and come out big. He sent enormous platters of shrimp and other expensive food to the Gazette whenever we mentioned him or did a deed he admired. We'd promptly send them down the street to the Salvation Army. He offered Waterman pens to one and all who'd written about him, also politely declined by all (as far as I know). He was a hard man to turn down and I confess my ethics slipped on two occasions.
He always feted Mike Huckabee's staff with a lavish barbecue and made special T-shirts for the occasion. The governor and I weren't close, you might remember. I accepted a 5XL T-shirt from Jennings of one such event. It featured a Vic Harville cartoon, depicting the Huckabee staff making merry at a party at which the centerpiece was me boiling in a kettle of oil.
I also ate a plate of his barbecue when he threw a feed for the first winners of the Arkansas Times' first Best of Arkansas contest. He was voted the best philanthropist or citizen, I can't remember which. He perennially finished high in those categories.
I learned years after that Jennings, who often worked nights at his medical lab, had a deal with the Times' delivery service to bring him a copy the minute weekly distribution began. He had a $100 tip for the lucky delivery man.
And there was one other Osborne gift that crossed my threshold, though it wasn't mine to accept or reject. Jennings finally came to realize I wouldn't accept gifts from him (nor would my wife, who as judge presided over a portion of the famous Osborne Christmas lights neighborhood nuisance case). But there was nothing for me to do the day after my daughter graduated from Central High and a florist delivery van arrived at the door. In came the biggest array of white roses I'd ever seen, maybe 100 of them, a gift to the valedictorian. They stayed on the dining room table until there were no more petals to drop.
He wrote me not long before he died. Just checking in. He still believed Mike Huckabee and I could find common ground. After all, if he could find common ground with me, Mike Huckabee and Hillary Rodham Clinton (another one of his favorite people), just about anything is possible in this old world. Right?
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