On Paul Eells, film fest shakeup 

Many Arkansans woke up Tuesday to the same kick in the gut I remember feeling on a early fall Friday morning in 1974, when I heard that the “Voice of the Razorbacks,” Bud Campbell, had been killed late the night before in a car accident.

Monday night, a car wreck in Russellville on Interstate 40 claimed Paul Eells, who was two broadcasters removed from Campbell in the royal “Voice of the Razorbacks” lineage, coming from Vanderbilt in 1978 to replace “Big” Sam Smith, who had stayed just a year before getting an NBA announcing job. Smith had replaced Dave Woodman, who was Campbell’s successor and switched over from KARK to KATV — just as Campbell had done in the mid 1960s when KATV took the “Razorback Station” mantle from KARK. Campbell had become an icon over a decade-plus of Razorback football success, and was good enough to get ABC regional football assignments that usually went to guys in much bigger markets.

The Iowa native Eells, when he arrived for the 1978 season, couldn’t have imagined being in the role he would hold for 28 years. But he endured and came to call Arkansas his permanent home, while a handful of Razorback football coaches and two great basketball coaches came and went.

It was very likely that this coming sports year was going to be the last for Eells, who was 70 years old, as the Razorbacks’ “voice”; he had hinted as much in his induction into the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame in February. Instead, for every Razorback fan, there will be major sadness on game days this fall when we no longer hear “Touchdown Arkansas.”

A kinder gentleman I’ve never known. As the tributes flowed all morning on KABZ-FM, 103.7 “The Buzz” talk shows, David Bazzel made note that in a business full of big egos, Eells had no ego. He was all about giving. Tommy Smith said, If only all of us could show a tenth of the kindness Eells always displayed to everyone. He treated the big shots and the average person with the same grace. Former Razorback greats from Joe Kleine in basketball to Anthony Lucas in football told emotional stories about Eells.

He learned he was mortal a couple of years ago, when a series of blood clots put him in the hospital for what he said was the first time in his life. Doctors told him to stay off his feet a while and heal, and his wife Vickie was determined he listen to the doctors. Had the problem not passed by football season, Eells might have called games from a bed in the press box; everyone knew he was determined to be there.

No one can recall Eells ever complaining about anything. If he ever had a bad mood, he hid it from most everyone. He did his job, and he loved the Razorbacks, but most importantly he seemed to enjoy and like people, even the most casual acquaintance. There won’t be another like him. But, as others have said, we’d all be well-served to try to live like he did.

His passing did something else to Razorback fans this week: It put the worries about a star player suffering an injured big toe in the proper perspective.

Three months before its annual major event, the 10-day Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival, the Spa City’s Documentary Film Institute has had a sudden change in leadership.

Brenda Hawkes, the president of the Hot Springs Documentary Film Institute, submitted her letter of resignation last Wednesday, and the Institute’s board chairman, Bill Asti, followed by telling the board he was quitting.

Asti wasn’t in town when the rest of the HSDFI board met a week earlier to discuss the institute’s direction. Brad Hudgens, vice chairman of the HSDFI board, said Hawkes was not fired and he wouldn’t say if Hawkes was asked to resign. Asti, however, had made it clear that if Hawkes was let go, he’d go with her.

Hudgens said the sudden changes in the leadership would not affect this year’s festival, scheduled for Oct. 20-29. “We’ve got our volunteers going through 900 films right now, and our graphics folks are getting the invitations made for the gala. Absolutely, the festival is still in great shape.”

The volunteer screening committee of the festival was scheduled to have its list of films decided by last Sunday.

Hawkes, who had recently undergone breast cancer surgery, said her health situation was partly a factor in her resignation, but “in the overall scheme of things, not the main factor.”

The former fund-raising chief at Henderson State University in Arkadelphia, Hawkes, who lives in Arkadelphia, responded to me by e-mail: “Mr. Bill Asti and I worked very well together and had plans to develop more economic development initiatives and educational components within the Institute.”

This isn’t the first time the Film Institute board and the institute’s president haven’t seemed to be on the same page. Melanie Masino, who ran the institute for six years, announced in 2004 that she would resign after that year’s festival. She would never say then, and has since not said, that the board’s meddling led to her stepping down. But others close to the 15-year-old festival indicated as much.

The Institute board will meet soon to choose a chairman. Sources expected Hud-gens to get that post; he wasn’t so sure.



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