Former Arkansas State Sen. Steve Bryles passed away early Friday morning, ending his battle with esophageal cancer.
He was involved in the cotton industry for more than 27 years, and was integral in establishing the Great River Economic Development Foundation.
Bryles leaves his wife, Pam, and three children.
Former president pro tempore of the Arkansas Senate Jim Argue confirmed Bryles passing via a Facebook posting and offered his condolences to the family.
"My friend, Sen. Steve Bryles, passed away this morning. He was 55, had been battling esophageal cancer. He is survived by wife Pam, one son and two daughters. Steve had a huge heart, especially for disadvantaged children living in the Arkansas Delta. He was a key player in crafting a response to the Lake View school funding case that ruled Arkansas schools unconstitutional. His leadership led to significant improvements in educational opportunity for children. He'll be greatly missed. Please keep the Bryles family in your prayers," he said.
Former Blytheville Mayor Barrett Harrison was a classmate and friend of Bryles, and said Bryles always worked hard for the good of his district.
"Steve was a dear friend," he said. "We graduated high school together. Nobody loved Blytheville and Mississippi County as much as Steve Bryles. I just cannot tell you how hard he worked in the Senate to make Blytheville and Mississippi County a better place. He loved this place, and he loved everyone here, and I'll never forget him. Simply put, he was one of the best people that I ever knew."
"He got things done for this district," said Mike Bearden, Blytheville city attorney and Bryles' predecessor in the State Senate position. "When he was elected, he asked me what he needed to do. I told him to attach himself to Mike Beebe, because that's how he would be able to get money for this county, and that was the most important thing he could do -- and he did that; he got it done. My deepest sympathies go to his family."
Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe issues a comment late Friday morning.
"Steve Bryles was a good friend with a gentle heart who never wanted to stop helping people," Beebe said. "His work was always deliberate, his dedication to public service unwavering, and regardless of the stakes, he always kept a level head. In all the years I knew Steve, I don't ever remember seeing him losing his temper."
Liz Smith, executive director for the Greater Blytheville Area Chamber of Commerce, worked with Bryles on several initiatives.
"Obviously, I am very saddened at his death," she said. "As a state senator, Steve did not just love Blytheville and Mississippi County, he was a senator who was willing to initiate change, even when it was controversial. He was a guy who would stand up and be counted, which I admired. I enjoyed him very much as a friend. He had a wry and dry wit that brought a lot of humor to life, and a great level of sincerity. Overall, he was really willing to take initiative and he watched out for us."
Mississippi County Judge Randy Carney said Bryles was a great friend to the area and his service has been appreciated.
"Steve Bryles entered politics for all the right reasons," Carney said. "He was the ultimate public servant. Steve was a man of great integrity. With his talent and intelligence to do anything, I'm glad he chose public service. With all of his accomplishments, his family remained the most important thing to him. Steve was a personal friend and a great friend to Mississippi County and the state of Arkansas."
Longtime Blytheville City Council veteran R.L. Jones said: "He was an outstanding person. He really fought hard for this district. He brought the bacon home for this district. He will be dearly missed."
*A celebration of Steve's life will be held at 11 a.m. Thursday at Second Presbyterian Church at Little Rock and again at 11 a.m. Saturday, Jan. 5, at First Presbyterian Church at Blytheville.