eroy Blair of Clay has visited every gravesite in White County and recorded what he saw – some 50,000 names. His remarkable odyssey through the resting place of past generations has earned him a special Volunteer of the Year Heritage Award from the White County Historical Society.
The award came as a surprise when presented to Blair at the Society’s meeting June 24, 2002, in Searcy.
“What he has done may be the single most significant achievement in the history of the White County Historical Society,” board member Eddie Best said in presenting the award. “Genealogists and historians will be talking about The Blair Reports a century from now.
“In January 1999, when a tornado went through Center Hill, it claimed the life of Wanda Wilson. Wanda was an outstanding citizen, a member of the Quorum Court and also secretary of the Center Hill Baptist Cemetery Association. She had joined the Historical Society weeks before her death and told me how proud she was of the records that she and others had been able to prepare on the Center Hill cemetery.
“So, to honor her the Historical Society placed her cemetery records on the Internet, using the national GenWeb network. And thus began a cemetery records program that continues today.
“At the time there were 150 known cemeteries in White County, but the organization had information on only a portion of them which were more than 40 years old. The Society called for volunteers who could visit the cemeteries and record what they found on the old tombstones, which was usually the only source of information.”
Blair, who would turn out to be a remarkable volunteer, came forward. He was a retired military man with a heart condition who was under doctor’s orders to walk. Blair figured he could walk the graveyards, copy information and help both himself and the organization.
Three years later, every known cemetery in White County – all 150 plus some 30 more that he has found – have been visited, documented and placed on the Internet.
“What he has done is truly amazing. He has left indelible footprints through the paths of White County history that will be here a century from now,” Best said. “This man has personally visited every cemetery, every grave, every tombstone and written it down on his clipboard to be transferred to the Web for the whole world to see. If you have a friend or relative buried in White County, Leroy has been there.”
In his visits to more than 50,000 graves, Blair has “walked, ridden four-wheelers, jumped ditches, fought dogs and even a dominecker rooster and gotten so many ticks on him it looked like he was wearing a polka dot shirt,” Best said. “He has personally discovered and recorded many cemeteries we didn’t know existed and is working on many more.”
Twice he checked into an emergency room with congestive heart problems and thyroid problems and twice he was back out in the cemeteries in just a couple of days, continuing to work on the hottest and coldest days of the year.
Other volunteers have contributed significantly to the cemetery records program – members like Averil Beaver at Roosevelt, Mary Spurlock at Judsonia, Lois and Ray Etheridge at Bald Knob and others like Tommy Treadway of Searcy, who conducted more than 15 of the original surveys. Cloie and Leister Presley, who are now honorary lifetime members, did cemetery surveys in the 1960s. Many volunteers are quietly contributing now, “which is the hallmark of a healthy organization,” Best said.