Arthur A. Small Jr. ’55

Arthur A. Small Jr. ’55 died on October 3, 2015, in Iowa City, Iowa.

(The following appeared in the Iowa City Press Citizen, October 6, 2015):

Former state legislator, lawyer, lobbyist and poet Arthur Small Jr. is being remembered by friends, family and colleagues as a renaissance man who brought intelligence and passion to his many undertakings.

“If you were to just rattle off the alphabet, odds are you could name something Art’s done,” said Davenport Mayor Bill Gluba, who served with Small in the Iowa Legislature during the 1970s and 1980s.

And although not featuring every letter, the list of Small’s passions and professions includes attorney, collector, father, husband, legislator, motorcyclist, opera singer, professor, representative, sailor, tinkerer, veteran and writer.

“He was a brilliant guy,” Gluba said. “Art was probably the most intelligent legislator, period. No question about it. He was the smartest guy out there.”

Small, 81, died early Saturday in Oaknoll Retirement Home in Iowa City. Family members report that the cause of death was complications from kidney failure.

Gluba and Small were both elected to the Iowa House of Representatives in 1970, with both going on to serve in the Iowa Senate. Gluba returned to Davenport, where he has served as mayor since 2007. Small, after an unsuccessful run for lieutenant governor in 1986, spent the next 15 years as a lobbyist for a variety of clients, including the state judges’ association and some rural school districts.

Small – who had earned his law degree from the University of Iowa while serving in the Senate – remained a frequent visitor to the Iowa Statehouse.

“I’d see him on a regular basis at the capitol,” said Joe Bolkcom, who has represented Iowa City in the Iowa Senate since 1999. “He had a lot of support and advice for me, both as a freshman legislator and beyond. He helped me understand the things to worry about and the things not to worry about in the legislative process.”

Health concerns in the early 2000s required Small to receive a liver transplant, which he recovered from well enough to launch an unsuccessful campaign in 2004 to unseat U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley – the powerful Republican incumbent who otherwise would have run unopposed.

“He didn’t have any illusions about his chances,” said son Arthur Small III, of State College, Penn. “He basically ran as a kind of public service to the party and to the voters. He wanted to ensure that his concerns would at least get discussion.”

Some of slogans during the 2004 campaign included “Think big, vote Small” and “A. Small campaign.”

“He was always coming up with little quips,” Gluba said.

Small’s legacy of legislative victories includes increased protections for renters in tenant/landlord ordinances and limiting how much banks could charge customers during the advent of automatic teller machines. During his committee work, he often advocated for increased state funding for higher education in general and UI in particular.

“I don’t think the people in Iowa City appreciated all the money and support he got (for UI) from the Legislature while he was there,” Gluba said. “He’s the main reason UI got a new law building.”

After his loss against Grassley, Small focused his attention on continuing to care for his wife, former longtime UI administrator Mary Jo Small, who died in 2009.

“He and my mother were absolutely a team, in life as well as politics,” said son Peter Small, of Iowa City. “It’s hard to stress that enough.”

In the six years since his wife’s death, Small turned his focus to poetry – with more than a dozen of his poems having been printed by the Press-Citizen and several more have been featured in Iowa City’s Poetry in Public project.

“I think that became for him a means of public expression and obliquely offering his opinion,” Peter Small said.

The topics of Small’s poems have ranged from overtly political themes (“Dancing on the Ceiling of Debt” and “An Old Man Ponders His Vote on Election Day”) to more pastoral observations (“The Turning of an Iowa Year”), to meditations on his own mortality (“Summoned by the Rapture”).

“Twas just the other day,” Small wrote in 2011, “When I was summoned by the Rapture / And I had this to say: / Unless your Heaven be a whole lot better than my Ioway / Here is where I’d rather stay.”

Small was born Oct. 14, 1933 in Brunswick, Maine.  He graduated from Bowdoin College with his BA in 1959, received an MA from UI in 1962, and earned his JD from UI in 1982. He served in the Iowa State House of Representatives from 1971 to 1979, and in the Iowa Senate from 1979-1987.

In addition to his sons Peter and Arthur, Small is survived by daughter Martha Small, of Fort Collins, Colorado; and sisters Mary Eckton, of Reading, Penn., and Helen Small, of Brunswick, Maine.