JASPER, Ark. — When they first met some 23 years ago, Hilary Jones was a local Democratic stalwart who took the young Bill Clinton under his wing quite literally, volunteering his small airplane to fly the would-be politician across the Ozark Mountains in what turned out to be a futile campaign for Congress.
When they finally parted ways Friday, Clinton brought his own plane, now designated Air Force One, as well as a quarter-century of memories of one of his earliest and staunchest supporters.
"I can't exactly describe it, but after the first time I met him I knew that my life would never quite be the same," Clinton said in delivering the eulogy of a mentor who died on Tuesday at age 70. "He wasn't like anybody I had ever met before, and I've seen a little bit more of the world since then and I never have met anybody like him since."
For the second time in a month, a somber and nostalgic president returned to Arkansas to bury someone who played an important role in an earlier stage of his life. Although Jones was not kin, like his great-uncle Henry Oren "Buddy" Grisham, who died last month, he was "one of my closest personal friends" and even "a surrogate uncle or father," according to Clinton.