Magness Lake, in Heber Springs, is a magnet for swans
Inside and out, the stately, well-manicured red brick home on the second hole of the Searcy Country Club golf course is an appropriate symbol of wealth and privilege befitting a named partner in the city’s top law firm and 24-year public servant who on Jan. 9 became Arkansas’s 45th governor.
Posed on the veranda beneath soaring columns, Mike Beebe stands a world away from his great-grandmother Maudie’s rickety tarpaper shack where he was born on Dec. 28, 1946, in Amagon, Ark., the fatherless son of a teen-age mother.
His ascension to the Arkansas governor’s office is an accomplishment that testifies to his tenacity, brainpower and strength of personality. He has laughed off statistics that said he faced a life of economic and social leftovers. He has beaten the odds and has earned the title of the Arkansas Times’ Arkansan of the Year for 2006.
As he settled into a tufted leather armchair in the comfortable but elegant library just off the dining room in his Searcy home, Beebe looked back at his life to analyze how he was able to blow the socks off sociology statistics that say 78 percent of children born in the same circumstances today are likely to be doomed to a lifetime of poverty. And those statistics were even more dire in pre-Medicaid, pre-AFDC, pre-ARKids First 1946.
How did he make it? What saved him? Who saved him?
Initially it was his mother, Louise Quattlebaum Beebe. She had no education, but she was smart. She had no money to speak of, but she had a wealth of personality. The future governor inherited all she had.
And when he was on the brink of needing to learn how to become a man, she put her own quest for happiness on hold. She settled him down in Newport, where, for the first time in his young life, Beebe was able to live four uninterrupted years in the same school and the same town — providing him a crucial period of stability during his adolescent years. The stability — the first he had known — allowed him to form critical male bonds with boys his own age, and with the fathers of those friends.
Beebe gives the impression he doesn’t think his journey to adulthood and subsequent success was at all unusual, despite poverty, lack of a father, domestic upheavals, and constant moving from one end of the country to the other.
“It was a simpler time,” he said about the critical teen years, where many a good boy has turned bad. “It was a good time to grow up in a good place.”
He survived with the help of a mother whose own life was limited by circumstance, but who was determined that her son’s life wouldn’t be so restricted.
Louise Beebe was all of 18 years old and had been abandoned by her husband, Lester Kindall Beebe, before the future governor was born. In between several bouts of serious illness during which her son lived with his grandmother and other relatives from Tuckerman to Detroit and points between, Louise supported her son on a waitress’ salary and tips.
“We were poor. We lived in ghetto apartments all over the country — in St. Louis, Chicago, Detroit, Alamogordo (N.M.), Houston, three places in Florida. I think I went to five different schools in the fifth grade,” Beebe said. “But if she had a dime, I got 10 cents of it.” Along the way, his mother married a number of men, hoping to provide her son a stepfather.
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