Cover photo for Joseph "Jay" Clemmons, III's Obituary
1939 Joseph 2022

Joseph "Jay" Clemmons, III

1939 — January 1, 2022


Joseph “Jay” Baldwin Clemmons III, passed away on July 29, in Bismarck, Arkansas, at the age of 83. His story began in Central America. He was born in Colon, Panama to parents Isabelle (nee Bitter) and Joseph “J.B.” Clemmons, Jr; both of whom had gone abroad to seek employment as the US recovered from the Depression.

Jay grew up in Panama with his younger brother, Stuart. They spoke fluent Spanish, explored jungles and mountains of Panama by motorcycle and helped their grandparents build a home deep in the mountains of the Panamanian interior. Jay took his first solo flight in 1955, at age 16, and got a license with limited commercial privileges in 1956. This set him on a lifelong relationship with aviation. Jay graduated with honors from Balboa High School in Panama in 1956 and despite his father’s desire for him to attend LSU, he set his sights on Duke University and a civil engineering degree.

In 1956, he landed stateside in Durham, North Carolina to attend Duke. During college, he financed his plane rentals by taking friends on rides and trips. He graduated in 1960 with a bachelor’s degree and became a licensed civil engineer, but to his father’s chagrin, Jay wanted to fly airplanes. He took a part time job at the local airport to earn flight time and spent every hour he could in the cockpit.

In 1960, Jay took his Duke engineering degree and hundreds of hours of flight time and moved to a tiny town, Arkadelphia, Arkansas, with a tiny university, Henderson State University, to help establish a flight training program to teach young ROTC officers how to become pilots. In Arkansas, he fell in love. He fell in love with the land, the Ouachita mountains, the lakes, the culture of the South and with a beautiful college student named Rebecca Rucks. He and Rebecca married in 1964 and welcomed their first child, a daughter, Lisa, the following year. During the early years of their marriage, Jay flew charter flights from all over the country to bring famous and not-so-famous people to Hot Springs for horse racing at Oaklawn Park.

He did not stop flying, but eventually Jay became a full-time civil engineer and had a successful career building bridges, locks and dams, hydro-electric plants, highways, ports, and a host of other structures all over the US and the world. The more challenging the job site, the more he liked it, and because of his ability to fly into the most remote job sites, Jay often managed construction projects in jungles, swamps, bayous, marshes, ecologically sensitive areas and waterways with poor road access. One of his employers purchased a twin-engine Cessna 310 for him to use for a particularly remote build. His work took him, and frequently his family, to the shores, rivers and intercoastal waterways of Florida, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Virginia, Maryland and the Carolinas; ports in the Caribbean, Grand Cayman, St. Croix, the US Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, and to the continents of Europe and Africa. It was in Nigeria that his second daughter, Karina, was born in a remote mission hospital outside of Lagos.

After years of moving for his career, he returned to Arkansas in the late 70’s and settled his family on property in Hot Springs. Hot Springs served as his base of operation for many years as he continued to travel for work.

He briefly considered retirement in the early 90’s, but was recruited by a company in Tampa, Florida to supervise marine construction projects in Tampa Bay. He often commuted to work in the boat he shared with his brother Stu, The Shamrock. He was a little insufferable about this perk of the job. He loved his career, but eventually retired from civil engineering in St. Petersburg, Florida, and subsequently spent as many days as he could on the water or in the air.

Not long into retirement, Arkansas called to him again. For the third time in his life, he returned to Arkansas, enabling him to spend time with his children and grandchildren. Jay loved the Arkansas outdoors. On his Hot Springs property, he built walking trails, named many of the giant old oaks after heroes of Greek mythology and turned the property into a sanctuary for wildlife. He liked to get on his riding lawn mower and spend an afternoon mowing the green spaces that he called his yard.

Jay was active in Creative Life Church of Hot Springs, serving as a worship leader and as treasurer for several years. He loved his church community like they were his own family. He was a lifelong member of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA). He referred to the cockpit of whatever plane he was flying as “the front office.” He owned and flew many airplanes in his life, but he loved 3566 Yankee the most. The Cessna 182 was the last aircraft he owned (23 years and 3 engine replacements) and he formed a bond with it that was so strong, he referred to the plane as a family member.

His daughters served as co-captains of his boats, and co-pilots for many trips in his beloved Cessna.  He taught them about altimeters, flight plans, flying on instruments, and airport revisions. He also taught them the language of heavy construction. Lisa and Karina knew coffer dams, bridge pilings, river navigation, cranes, tugboats and barges. In retirement he was able to spend more time with family and became a devoted grandfather to his three grandchildren. He accompanied his daughters on adventures that included exploring glaciers in Iceland, and an epic homecoming journey to tour the regions of Panama where he grew up.

He will be missed by the many friends he made and loved during his life. Those who knew Jay knew him to be kind, spiritual, a great storyteller, generous, a good man and a great friend. He favored Hawaiian shirts in bright colors, much like his brother Stu. He was never much of a cook, but he loved to eat and could almost always be enticed somewhere with the promise of a good meal. He was a voracious reader and had perfected the art of a good nap. He was not a cat person, but for some reason, cats loved him, (especially Lucy, a tiny black and white farm cat who adopted him in the last few months of his life). His generosity was legendary. He never hesitated to lend his time, money or talent to a friend in need. Whenever someone asked Jay how he was, his response was always, “I’m grateful.”

Jay was predeceased by his mother, Isabelle Clemmons, father, J.B. Clemmons Jr., both of St. Petersburg, Florida, and his brother, Stuart Clemmons of Mill Valley, California and St. Petersburg, Florida. He is survived by his two daughters Lisa Van Hook (husband Mark) and Karina Clemmons (husband Paul Charton); three grandchildren; wife Lynnell Mitchell of Bismarck; nieces Christine and Elizabeth Clemmons, and nephew Michael Clemmons.

The family appreciates the compassion provided by the nursing staff and health professionals at National Park Medical Center, and are especially grateful for the angels that make Arkansas Hospice a beacon of hope for families across the state. A private celebration of life will be held. In memory, the family encourages contributions to CARE for Animals and Arkansas Hospice.

Although Jay has left his life on earth, his family finds comfort in the belief that he is still in the pilot’s seat and his travels continue.

Arrangements by Arkansas Cremation, 10515 W Markham St, Ste B1, Little Rock, AR 72205.  If you would like to leave a message of condolence to the family, you may do so within the "Tribute Wall" tab.

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