Legendary Dumas Clarion Publisher/Editor Charlotte Schexnayder passes away at age 96

Jan 5, 2021

Charlotte was the first woman to hold the office of president of the Arkansas Press Association and the National Newspaper Association, an organization of community weekly and daily newspapers in 1991-92.

Publisher | Dumas Clarion

I could fill the pages of this week's Dumas (Arkansas) Clarion with the accomplishments of this amazing lady, Charlotte Tillar Schexnayder, who touched us all with her extraordinary life, inspired and mentored so many, and it would not do her justice. She was an icon, a Dumas native who accomplished amazing things during her 96 years of life.

She was born Christmas Day, December 25, 1923, at Tillar, Arkansas, the daughter of Jewell Stephen Tillar and Bertha Terry Tillar, whose families were pioneer settlers in southeast Arkansas.

Charlotte married Melvin J. Schexnayder Sr. on August 18, 1946. They had three children, M. John Schexnayder Jr., Sarah S. Steen and Dr. Stephen M. Schexnayder, as well as a host of grandchildren.

After graduating from Tillar High School in 1940, Charlotte attended Arkansas A&M College, which is now the University of Arkansas at Monticello, before transferring to LSU in Baton Rouge, where she graduated with a B.A. in sociology and journalism in 1944. She also studied at the University of Chicago during summer 1942 and in graduate school at LSU in 1946-47.

In 1954, Charlotte and her husband, Melvin, purchased The Dumas Clarion, owning the Clarion until April 15, 1998, when she sold the newspaper to Emmerich Newspapers, a Jackson, Mississippi, based chain who owns the publication today.

The Schexnayders retired after a career of over 50 years in journalism.

Charlotte was always a valuable asset to the Dumas community, being involved in many facets of the growth of the city. Charlotte was the first woman to hold the office of president of the Arkansas Press Association and the National Newspaper Association, an organization of community weekly and daily newspapers in 1991-92. She also headed the Governmental Affairs Conference of NNA and held offices of treasurer, president-elect, and committee chairmanships.

The Clarion, widely recognized as an outstanding weekly newspaper, received countless awards for excellence during the Schexnayders' 44 years as publishers.

Charlotte was a winner of more than 400 awards in state and national press contests, as well as special recognition from U.S. Air Force, Rice Council, Jaycees, Future Farmers of America, American Legion, Extension Homemakers, Easter Seal Society, Arkansas Alcohol and Drug Abuse Prevention Authority, Dumas Chamber of Commerce, Red Cross and Optimist Club; Outstanding Communicator, 1990; Arkansas Association of Conservation District.

Charlotte was elected to seven terms in Arkansas House of Representatives from District 85, 80 and 74; assistant speaker pro tem, 1995-97; served on Joint Budget Committee, Legislative Council, Committees on Revenue and Taxation, State Agencies, Agriculture and Economic Development, Transportation, Legislative Affairs and Aging, City, County and Local Affairs, and Education.

Charlotte was selected by President-elect Bill Clinton and Arkansas Democrats as Arkansas Member of the Electoral College, 1992. She was appointed by Gov. David Pryor to be the first woman on the Arkansas Board of Pardons and Parole, 1975-80.

In 1990, Charlotte was chairman of the Arkansas Rural Development Study Commission, and she was a member and 1996 chairman of Arkansas Rural Development Commissions; Arkansas’ delegate to National Rural Development Academy; former member of Governor's Commission on Status of Women, appointed by Gov. Dale Bumpers; former member, Capital Arts Commission; appointed by Gov. Clinton to serve on blue-ribbon panel leading to Ethics Commission and sponsored this legislation in House; and served on Campaign Finance Ethics Commission.

Charlotte's first bill enacted by Arkansas Legislature created a compact to build a Mississippi River bridge from Desha County, Arkansas, to Bolivar County, Mississippi; sponsored legislation to create the Office of Rural Advocacy, now the Department of Rural Development; state financing of primary elections; mixed drink tax to finance research facilities at University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences; Morgan Bendway Lake on Arkansas River; State Capitol Arts Commission. She worked on funding for Yellow Bend Port on Mississippi River, Dumas Ed-center, and new State Police and SE Law Enforcement Center, after-school enhancement program for Dumas Public Schools.

Charlotte Schexnayder's dedication to the Dumas community, the state of Arkansas and to our Nation goes beyond outstanding. The life and legendary accomplishments of this Dumas native helped shape our city, Desha County, the State of Arkansas and our nation. All I can think to say, as I stand to humbly to honor her, is well done, Charlotte Schexnayder. An extraordinary life I hope we never forget.