Whether working the Heart Ball or representing clients, Dan Herrington gives it 100%
By SETH BLOMELEY SPECIAL TO THE ARKANSAS DEMOCRAT-GAZETTE
While Dan Herrington attended Arkansas State University at Jonesboro, he roomed with a nonstudent -- a guy who fixed railroad bridges for a living and had no interest in fraternity parties.
His roomie was his best friend, the best man at his wedding and his hero. This unlikely companion was his father, the late Lee Herrington.
"Whatever you are doing, give it 100 percent. That was my dad's motto," Herrington says. "If you are mowing a lawn, get after it. If you are washing a car, get after it. If you are working for someone, they are paying you to do a job, so do your best."
As Herrington, board chairman of the central Arkansas office of the American Heart Association, prepares for the association's 30th Annual Heart Ball on Saturday, he's reminded of his father's work ethic and perseverance. Both of Herrington's parents and numerous other relatives suffered from various ailments that adversely affect the human heart.
"Dad was a two-pack-a-day guy until he quit [smoking] cold turkey in 1981," Herrington recalls. "He never had another pack after that, but he wanted to. Every day. The urge never left him. That's how strong the addiction is. My mother was a lifelong smoker. I don't know how many times I gave her money for hypnosis and other treatments and doctor visits, but they never took. It's an addiction, for sure, and it's a battle."
Herrington, 47, has been involved with the Heart Association ever since he passed the bar exam and went to work as an employment lawyer for the Friday, Eldredge & Clark LLP firm more than 20 years ago. His initial interest stemmed from a request by his firm's leadership to organize volunteers from within the company for the annual Heart Walk and to make a good impression with the size and enthusiasm of the team.
He was eager and willing, though he had one question: "What's the Heart Walk?"
Herrington laughs telling this story in a 23rd floor conference room at the Friday firm's offices in the Regions Bank Building. A grand view of downtown Little Rock fills the window behind him. Those who know him best say that despite the less-than-altruistic intentions in the beginning, Herrington's involvement with the association has evolved. He's dedicated to the cause and takes the association's mission seriously.
He has become the go-to guy for causes related to the heart, as well as other issues, such as hunger. He once served as board chairman of the Arkansas Rice Depot, which has since merged with Arkansas Food Bank.
He recently started taking his volunteer work home with him -- literally. He and his wife, Stacie -- already with two teenage children -- are now caring for an infant foster child.
"He's just an amazing guy with a lot of positive attributes," says Dr. Brian Eble, a pediatric cardiologist who knows Herrington through the Heart Association. "He believes he was called to be a faithful steward of what he's been given. Whether that's giving money or sharing his time or sharing his family with an adopted kid, he really puts his money where his mouth is. He and I have talked a couple of times about how important being a Christian is to him. It sort of gives him a Jesus-colored lens."
Herrington was born in Forrest City but grew up in nearby Palestine. His parents divorced when he was 4, and his mother moved to Hot Springs. He didn't see her much. He didn't have a bad relationship with her, he says, she was "just not an active parent." He remained close to his father, but his dad traveled a good bit with the railroad, leaving young Dan and three siblings to be raised mostly by their grandmother.
Herrington graduated from then Palestine High School, where he was valedictorian, and at 162 pounds, an all-county center on the football team.
When it came time to attend Arkansas State, he and his father decided to rent a house together in Jonesboro. His father had no connection to the Palestine area after young Dan graduated from high school. The elder Herrington was on the road with the railroad most weeks, but he needed a place to lay his head on weekends.
Herrington talks about his father as a college roommate as if it were commonplace. He says he wouldn't have had it any other way. "Most of the time he wasn't there, so he didn't cramp my style," Herrington says, chuckling. He had fun in college and did well, graduating with a degree in business.
"I enjoyed fraternity life at ASU," says Herrington, having pledged Lambda Chi Alpha. "Dad didn't go to the parties with me."
Rooming together worked for them -- so much so that the father-and-son duo continued living together while Dan was in law school. It's part of the reason Herrington chose the University of Arkansas at Little Rock's William H. Bowen School of Law over the University of Arkansas School of Law in Fayetteville. (The son also wished to pursue a career in Little Rock after law school and his father had no interest in moving to Northwest Arkansas.)
Dan Herrington decided as a child he wanted to be a lawyer. Attorneys were among some of the most successful people in his small hometown. As it turns out, he had a knack for it.
"I liked to debate, and if I had an argument I would stay up in bed and try to figure out how to argue my position better, how to sway others to see things my way," he recalls.
The Friday firm hired him right out of school, and he has been there ever since. His practice mostly involves helping employers stay out of trouble in situations involving employees or helping employers defend complaints filed by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
He met Stacie on a blind date while at ASU. The pair were matched by his fraternity little brother, who was dating Stacie's friend. They've been married for 22 years. She's a math teacher at Little Rock Christian Academy.
In an age when job-hopping and divorce seem prevalent, Herrington's life path is a remarkable run of stability in family and career. So why now does he jump into something so life-changing as fostering an 11-month-old baby?
He and his wife were struck by a presentation given by someone from The Call, a foster child advocacy organization, at their church, Immanuel Baptist in Little Rock.
"We prayed about it. We take seriously the biblical mandate to care for widows and orphans. He's just the sweetest kid ever," Herrington says of the baby. He was reluctant to release the child's name because he is in foster care.
"But you can see the bags under my eyes," he says. "He doesn't like to sleep at night. I say I can handle anything if they would just sleep! But we've had zero issues other than that. Everything has been positive."
Friends are wowed by his devotion to helping others.
"I think it's amazing how naturally he fits in to taking someone else's child into his home and treating him like he was his own," says Eble, the pediatric cardiologist. "In a very persuasive way he's gotten me involved [in the Heart Association] that much more."
CHAIRMAN OF HEAVY LIFTING
Herrington's "passion" for the Heart Association and Rice Depot led Pulaski County Circuit Judge Patti James to nominate him for the 2010 Pulaski County Bar Association Citizen of the Year Award, which he received.
"Dan's got a ton of energy, and he's still just down to earth," says James, an ASU classmate. "If you ran into him you'd see he's still just a good ol' boy from Arkansas."
Vickie Wingfield, director of the Arkansas Heart Foundation, shares the sentiment.
"He'll identify the need and take care of it," Wingfield says. "He's genuinely one of the kindest and most selfless people I've ever known. He doesn't get involved halfway. He makes good on his commitment and goes above and beyond."
Carol Dyer, former executive director of the Heart Association, says she could always count on Herrington.
"He wants to help and do what is right," Dyer says. Herrington shows up at 6 a.m. to help stage the ball and will stay past midnight, long after the ball has ended. He'll help clean up and pick up, so much so that ball volunteers dubbed him the "chairman of heavy lifting." He has a red shirt bearing the moniker.
Dyer says Herrington is willing to do, and learn to do, whatever is necessary, such as tying bows behind chairs at Heart Ball tables. "We didn't know he had such a great gift for tying bows!" she says.
Herrington doesn't take himself too seriously and likes to have fun, she adds. She recalls one ball where an auction item -- a motorcycle -- remained unclaimed at the end of the night.
It was too much temptation.
"He said, 'Let's ride!' So, we rode the length of the corridor in the basement of the Little Rock convention center," Dyer says. "It was hilarious!"
HOW IT'S DONE
As with his own family members who had heart-related ailments, Herrington is well-aware of the many others in Arkansas who know the pain that heart disease brings.
It's not difficult for him to convince people to open their checkbooks and give. It's work similar to that he did for the former Rice Depot.
"All it took at the Rice Depot was to tell a potential donor about a kid going to school and not having eaten lunch since Friday, and the checkbook was open. It's such a tangible need, and you see immediate results," he says.
With the Heart Association, "We have such a great brand and reputation that people are willing to support us. We try to do a good job. I've tried to raise money for the arts before, and it's a little tougher."
He tries his best to educate potential benefactors about how the Heart Association functions: the national association brings more money into Arkansas than what's raised here. Donations help fund grants for heart research at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, and the association leads the way in education and advocacy campaigns.
The association stresses the importance of taking charge of one's health, eating right and monitoring one's blood pressure.
"We call it 'Check, Change and Control,'" Herrington says. "If people know their blood pressure goal, they will do something about it. We recruit captains, and they find folks who agree to check their blood pressure once a week or twice a month for four months."
On a larger scale, he advocates for healthful options in vending machines, high cigarette taxes to discourage purchase and healthful catered meals to be bought by government agencies for their meetings and conferences. He's also a big supporter of telemedicine, a way doctors can visit patients electronically, which he said is a big benefit for people living in rural areas with doctor shortages.
In 2010, the Heart Association committed to improving the cardiovascular health of all Americans by 20 percent by 2020, while reducing deaths from cardiovascular diseases and stroke by 20 percent. From these milestones the 2020 Impact Goal was created.
"We have seen a decrease and we're nearing 16 percent in decreasing mortality," says Rebecca Buerkle, communications director for the central Arkansas office. "However in recent years, death rates have been on the rise, causing us to move further back from our goal."
Herrington says obesity is the common denominator for so many heart problems and is a huge problem in society. "Obesity directly [affects] the heart. Anything we can do to control obesity improves our chances on just about every disease there is."
Herrington's father had a heart attack when he was 39 years old but recovered after giving up cigarettes. He died in 2006 after a five-year battle with Alzheimer's disease following his retirement from Union Pacific. The son took it hard.
"It wasn't really until his last year that he was really, really out of it. I was lucky he was in a nursing home for years in his hometown in Rison. So there were aunts and uncles around," Herrington says.
"Two cousins were nurses in that nursing home. Aunts would come and see him every day and I'd come down to see him on weekends. That year was tough. He was really my best friend."
Typically, about 1,000 people attend the Heart Ball, and about $800,000 is raised each year.
Loved ones gone are always on the mind.
"It's not just a fancy dress thing," Herrington says.
It's one of the largest and most well-orchestrated galas of the year, but for Herrington, it's a chance to roll up his sleeves, make good on his title as "chairman of heavy lifting" and help improve the heart health of those in his state.
High Profile on 03/26/2017