Earlier this summer, my wife Ann and I attended the funeral service for Frank Arnold, a political icon — in the finest sense of the word — from the hills of north Arkansas. The service was in Evening Shade, held in the Burt Reynolds Gymnasium, Linda Bloodworth Auditorium. This structure was built with the proceeds from the sale of the “Evening Shade Cookbook” during the four-year run of the CBS-TV sitcom “Evening Shade,” starring Burt Reynolds.

Arnold served 20 years as Sharp County judge. In Arkansas, the judge is the administrative head of the county and is empowered with considerable authority. He was folksy and pure country with a heart as big as all outdoors. While his formal education was limited, he had an abundance of humor, common sense, good judgment, wisdom and determination. He and I were classmates at ESHS. He graduated third in a class of 16, one notch ahead of me. When we finished school in 1950, the only paved roads in the county were the Main Street of Hardy and a half mile section of a state highway leading out of Evening Shade. Today, virtually every county road of any consequence is paved, thanks in large measure to the judge. When he was first elected, he defied a court order with the threat of jail time for refusing to pay a bill incurred inappropriately to his predecessor.

Following the minister’s message, Dustin McDaniel, attorney general for the state of Arkansas, gave the eulogy. McDaniel told of first meeting Frank at Congressman Marion Berry’s coon supper — yes, raccoon was the entrée — one of the premier political gatherings in the state. He read a long letter to the family from President Clinton. It was apparent that the letter had been dictated by the president, since it contained a number of personal references. Clinton told of Arnold arranging for him to speak at a school function following his defeat for reelection for a second term as governor in 1980. He said Arnold got him in a room with about 20 supporters and “explained why I had lost the election.”

McDaniel related several interesting anecdotes about Arnold. When introducing a candidate to voters, he would tell them what a wonderful person this is. In private, he would lean on them to support projects for Sharp County. He told of Arnold accompanying a delegation to Washington to hear the president deliver a radio address. Arnold didn’t have enough passes to the White House for the entire delegation, so he elected to remain in the hotel. The president wouldn’t deliver the speech until the Secret Service went to the hotel and brought him to the gathering. On another occasion, Arnold was on the White House lawn awaiting the arrival of the president’s helicopter. Assembled newsmen were pondering “Who is this character?” Arnold told them Clinton wouldn’t be president if not for him. Yeeeeaaahhh, they thought. When the president stepped from the chopper, he said “Hello, Frank.” Turning to the newsmen, he said “I wouldn’t be president except for this guy.”

Roy Shaver writes a weekly column for the Daily News.