Although a native of Oskaloosa, Iowa, attorney M. Robert “Bob” McFarland spent 65 years as a resident of Arlington, becoming one of the city’s staunchest defenders and a fierce fighter for his alma mater, the University of Texas at Arlington (known then as Arlington State College).
McFarland, who died last week at the age of 73, became Arlington’s first state representative (Tarrant County’s first Republican elected to the House) and the city’s first lobbyist. He spent a total of 14 years in the Legislature, including eight years as state senator.
The respected public servant had a colorful and storied career, beginning with his first job as an ambulance driver for an Arlington funeral home while he was still in college. Assigned to the “graveyard” shift, he was often the first on the scene of accident or crime, and he had plenty of stories to tell about those days.
After getting his law degree, he joined the FBI and was assigned to duties in the South, where he investigated the Ku Klux Klan and church bombings. For a while he also was in charge of the manhunt for James Earl Ray, the man who assassinated the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
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But McFarland made his mark in the state Capitol, as a legislator and a lobbyist for three area cities, large corporations, associations and Six Flags Over Texas.
In 1986, when the Select Committee on Higher Education left UT Arlington off the list of institutions like University of North Texas to be known as “emerging national universities” with research emphases, state Sen. McFarland said the committee’s recommendation would be accepted “over my dead body.” By February of 1987 the committee had changed its language about the Arlington school.
Again in 2003, lobbyist McFarland put on his boxing gloves when the University of Texas System chancellor declared UT Dallas as a priority for research to what some thought was the detriment of UT Arlington.
“The chancellor said UT Arlington: stepchild; UT Dallas: my new love,” McFarland said, as he went to work to unite the Tarrant legislative delegation to make sure his cherished school would be allowed to participate and compete for those research dollars.
All of Tarrant County is indebted to this man of integrity. He was buried Tuesday in his beloved Arlington.