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Ned McWherter

Posted Monday, April 4, 2011, at 3:44 PM

Although I love going to the Celebration each year and to take candid shots and kibbutz with the folks in the press box, there have been only a few times since I've been at the T-G when I was actually the lead reporter for covering the show each night. Usually, we rely on someone who actually knows something about the industry.

In 1992, for whatever reason, I was covering the show. That was the year when Bud Dunn rode crowd favorite Dark Spirit's Rebel to the World Grand Championship.

As I was leaving on that Saturday night, I saw Gov. Ned McWherter, who had made the presentation at center ring, in the Celebration offices under the west grandstand. I asked him for a comment.

"My horse won," he said, beaming.

Gov. McWherter visited Bedford County on a number of occasions. I remember a ribbon-cutting ceremony at Shelbyville Municipal Airport to celebrate the completion of four-laning U.S. 231 between Shelbyville and Murfreesboro. The late Franklin Yates, long-time publisher of the Times-Gazette, was by then retired and in very poor health. But he had been dogged in his support of the highway project, and had personally spoken to Gov. McWherter and his predecessors about it. So they brought Mr. Yates to the ribbon-cutting. He stayed in the car, and Gov. McWherter walked over to the car and shook Mr. Yates' hand.

McWherter, the son of sharecroppers, rose to the pinnacle of Tennessee government, first as speaker of the house and then as a two-term governor. He was a unique and popular figure, and I doubt we'll see anyone exactly like him any time soon.

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John, I enjoyed your "Ned McWherter" stories and certainly agree with you on his importance to Tennessee politics.

If you will allow me, I'd like to share a "memory" of this larger-than-life politician:

It was 1972 and I had not been editor of the Times-Gazette very long. One of my passions was, and still is, photography. The late Lytle (Jug) Landers and I decided to drive to Nashville on day the new speaker of the Tennessee House of Representatives was to be elected. Jug and Ned were good friends and found themselves side by side on the Democratic spectrum.

Ned Ray McWherter had been elected to the House in 1968 and had served two two-year terms before deciding to toss his "rather large" hat into the ring for speaker. His opponent was Rep. McKinney and as I recall it was supposed to be a close election. Bottom line, McWherter was elected and was being presented as the new speaker. It was one of those, "I'll never forget" moments, It was a cold, winter day and Ned Ray, who was a rather large man, was wearing a long topcoat and his signature white hat. The crowded house chamber parted as he slowly moved down the aisle, shaking every representative's hand. It was such an imposing image. I recall thinking, as I was snapping photos, "How could he not have won?" He had such a presence about him.

McWherter was a friend to Bedford County and enjoyed visiting often in support of his fellow Democrats, such as Rep. Clarence (Pete) Phillips and Lt. Gov. James L. Bomar, and others.

Indeed, McWherter was "one of a kind".

-- Posted by marnold1118 on Tue, Apr 5, 2011, at 11:11 AM
John I. Carney
When I was thinking about this yesterday, Jug Landers was one of the first people who came to mind. If Jug had still been with us, he'd have been the first person I would have called for a comment.

Ned actually did things to help education.

-- Posted by gordo1965 on Tue, Apr 5, 2011, at 12:27 PM

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John I. Carney is city editor of the Times-Gazette.
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