James McDougal, the banker whose corrupt Whitewater real-estate development tainted a presidency and landed him in prison, was the center of attention for one last hour on Friday, something his old friends say he would have appreciated.
A band played Dixieland jazz under a chilly gray sky as 150 friends forgave him his every trespass, and even a preacher pronounced with rock-hard conviction that McDougal had found God and was going to heaven.Then, when the last back was slapped, the last Jim McDougal story had been told and a good number of the mourners walked off to have a cocktail, the fallen entrepreneur and one-time political mover and shaker was lowered into a donated grave.
"I thought," said one old friend, Claudia Riley, "we might have had dancing."
McDougal, whose accounts of business dealings with Bill and Hillary Clinton sparked the Whitewater investigation that still troubles the Clinton administration so many years later, died Sunday after suffering a heart attack in solitary confinement in a federal prison.
He was laid to rest Friday in an inexpensive, dull-brown aluminum coffin and buried in a small rectangle of ground beside Riley's husband, former Lt. Gov. Bob Riley, who had been his friend and political mentor.
Riley wanted the funeral to be something that McDougal himself might have attended, even if he did not have to.
It was Riley who arranged for the band and encouraged people to come out to the hilltop cemetery in Arkadelphia, a town of 10,014 about 50 miles southwest of Little Rock.
People in business suits and blue jeans - and one man in a pair of red plaid pants - gathered on a day that could not make up its mind what season to be. A false spring had duped the trees into budding, but the recent spell of bitter cold froze the blossoms on the branches. It warmed a little, just before the processional.
"He was a dreamer, and they said his dreams turned into a nightmare," said the Rev. Gary Turner. "But who here hasn't made a mistake or two."