Carl Simpson Whillock, 79, a special assistant to President Bill Clinton and former Arkansas electric cooperatives chief, legislator and university president, died of a heart attack Nov. 7 in Little Rock. He collapsed in a grocery store parking lot.

Mr. Whillock, a well-known public servant in Arkansas who was with Clinton at the beginning of his political career, served as special assistant to the president for agriculture, trade and food assistance from 1997 to 2001.

In 1974, Clinton, then a young law professor, sought out Mr. Whillock when he considered running for Congress. Mr. Whillock dug out his files on Arkansas' 3rd District, and soon the two took off through the Ozark mountains, with Mr. Whillock introducing Clinton to political friends in every town. Clinton would credit his future political success to that effort, even though he lost that race.

"He's most important to me," Clinton told the Arkansas legislature in 2001, "because the first trip I took out of Fayetteville, in the first race I ever made in 1974, was across the hills of North Arkansas with Carl Whillock, when only my mother thought I had any business in that race."

Mr. Whillock was born in Scotland, Ark. During World War II, he joined the Navy at age 17 and was commissioned an ensign at 19. He received a bachelor's degree in 1948 and a master's in history and political science in 1951 from the University of Arkansas.

While working in Washington for U.S. Rep. J.W. Trimble (D-Ark.), he earned a law degree from George Washington University in 1960.

Mr. Whillock was a lawyer, one of Arkansas's leading educators, and an adviser and confidante to governors and senators. He was elected twice to the state House of Representatives from Van Buren County, first in 1952 at age 26, and he later was elected prosecuting attorney of the 14th Judicial District.

He was an administrative assistant to Trimble in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

He was vice president of the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville, then served as president of Arkansas State University at Jonesboro from 1978 to 1980.

For 16 years, he headed the Arkansas Electric Cooperatives Corp., which produced electricity for much of the state's countryside and small towns. Under his leadership, three hydroelectric dams were built on the Arkansas River that brought cheaper power to rural dwellers.

When Mr. Whillock retired in 1996, Clinton asked him to come to Washington. His wife, Margaret, accompanied him and was deputy director of the White House Visitors Office.

He lived in Washington until 2001.

His marriage to Anita Whillock ended in divorce.

Survivors include his wife of 33 years, of Little Rock; four children from his first marriage, Tim Whillock and Tom Whillock, both of Clinton, Ark., Sally Conduff of Fayetteville and Susan Lipe of Tulsa; six stepchildren, Sallie Overbey, Brennan Carter and Benjamin Carter, all of Fayetteville, Jenny Dakil of Norman, Okla., Melissa McKenney of Jasper, Alberta, and Larry Carter of Little Rock; a sister; 20 grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren.