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James Trester "Jimmy" DykeSupply firm chief, philanthropist dies

by Stephen Steed | October 12, 2021 at 3:42 a.m.

James Trester "Jimmy" Dyke, chairman emeritus of Dyke Industries in Little Rock and a leading donor to the arts and to medical research, died Monday in Little Rock. He was 84.

Born June 4, 1937, in Fort Smith, Dyke for decades led Dyke Industries, a supplier of building materials with roots dating to 1866.

"Rely on yourself was his motto," a son, Merritt Dyke, said Monday. "He was a self-starter and taught us growing up to be self reliant."

A cause of death was not disclosed.

Dyke Industries was the successor to two millwork factories -- Dyke Bros. in Fort Smith and Cole Manufacturing Co. in Memphis -- and has distribution outlets in 18 states, according to the company's website.

James Dyke was a resident of Palm Beach, Fla., but kept a home in Little Rock.

His father "never really retired, never really quit working," Merritt Dyke said. "He was always there for advice and wisdom, and he gave it because I needed it. We all did."

Helen L. Porter, Dyke's wife, said she and her husband were especially proud of a donation to the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences. The $1.5 million donation established the Helen L. Porter and James T. Dyke Brain Imaging Research Center, which opened in 2009.

"That's at the top of the list, because of our interest in mental health," Porter said. "Growing up, it was such a private thing. Like cancer, you just didn't talk about it."

Dr. G. Richard Smith, retired director of the research center, said, "We were raising money to build a psychiatric research center when they made their very generous gift. It enabled us to build the center that now bears Jim's and Helen's names. They allowed us to use their names publicly, which helped to combat the stigma surrounding mental health and seeking mental health care."

Porter and Dyke continued their contributions to the center and to UAMS generally, Smith said. Dyke also was a past president of the board of Arkansas Children's Hospital.

In 1979, Dyke served as director of what was then the Arkansas Industrial Development Commission during the first term of Gov. Bill Clinton.

"Jim Dyke was a skilled businessman, a dedicated public servant, and a visionary philanthropist," the former governor and president said in a statement. "I'll be eternally grateful for his service ... where he helped lay the groundwork for years of economic growth, and for all the good he and Helen did for so long to support the arts and many other important causes throughout the state. Helen, their children and grandchildren are in my thoughts and prayers."

Dyke didn't seek attention for himself or his company but found it about 20 years ago when he donated his collection of 133 drawings and watercolors by French neoimpressionist Paul Signac to the Arkansas Arts Center, now the Arkansas Museum of Fine Art in Little Rock.

"To me, the whole point of art is that it should be seen by people," Dyke told the Democrat-Gazette in February 2000. "All good art ought to wind up in museums."

Dyke was a founding member and a past president of the Arkansas Arts Center Foundation.

"There are those who make an enormous contribution to Arkansas. Some do it in business, others in public service, and still, others in the arts. Jim Dyke was one of those people in the arts," Walter E. Hussman Jr., publisher of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, and a longtime friend of Dyke's, said in a statement. "Jim was one of those Arkansans who left the state, got a great education -- in his case, at Georgia Tech and Yale -- and returned to his native state to make it even better."

The Signac collection is part of the permanent gallery at the museum. Dyke and Porter also are members of the 21st Century Founders -- donors of $1 million or more toward the museum's expansion.

Curtis Finch, Dyke's longtime friend and next-door neighbor, said he and Dyke had dinner together just a month ago.

"It was just neighbors getting together," Finch said. "I've known him for over 60 years. He was a great fellow and I always enjoyed his friendship."

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