NASHVILLE - Tributes and accolades flowed in in honor of the late Tennessee governor Ned McWherter, who died Monday afternoon at age 80 following a months-long battle with cancer.
Choking back tears, two of the former governor's closest lieutenants remaining in the state legislature, House Speaker Emeritus Jimmy Naifeh, D-Covington, and Rep. Lois DeBerry, D-Memphis, the former House speaker pro tem, recalled McWherter in a press conference and moments later in short tributes on the House floor.
Both said they spoke with McWherter almost every Sunday afternoon since his cancer was diagnosed late last fall. They recalled two of his most frequent homespun utterances as the longtime powerful speaker of the House from 1973 to 1986 and then as governor from 1987 to 1995.
McWherter borrowed the first from the late Northwest Tennessee congressman Robert "Fats" Everett, whom a young McWherter served as a driver during Everett's campaigns. It's inscribed on Everett's memorial on the Obion County Courthouse lawn in Union City:
"If a man didn't want to work, he oughtn't to have hired out."
I may be off a word or two on that but that's the gist of the words McWherter would deliver as House Speaker to restless members when floor sessions ran late into the evenings and the wee hours of the mornings.
Naifeh repeated the other story on the House floor Monday night:
"When he (McWherter) was campaigning for governor his first time, he went back to his hometown of Palmersville in Weakley County and he went into a little store, campaigning. He spoke to the two gentlemen on the front porch as he went in. When he came out, one of them said, 'Ned Ray, I've been seeing you on TV a whole lot lately.' He said 'Yes sir, I've spent a whole lot of money on it' - which he hated spending money on anything. But the man said, 'You know Ned Ray, you can go all across this state and see all these people and a whole lot of folks are going to think a lot of you -- but the crowd at your funeral's going to depend on the weather that day'."
Other tributes poured in from both sides of the political spectrum:
U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), who preceded McWherter as governor while McWherter was the powerful House speaker, paid tribute to McWherter on the Senate floor:
"When I became governor, Ned McWherter said, 'I'm going to help him, because if he succeeds, our state succeeds.' He was true to his word. That bipartisan spirit symbolized Ned's entire career. He was one of our state's finest public servants and a close friend. I will greatly miss him."
Former Democratic Gov. Phil Bredesen, whom McWherter helped persuade to run for governor the first time in 1994 - an unsuccessful run that Bredesen lost to Republican Don Sundquist:
"Ned McWherter was my mentor and my friend. I'd never met him, but after I'd run for mayor and lost, he called me up to the (Governor's) Residence. We sat in the office there, talked a little while, and then told me he was going to help me. I'm not sure I had a choice. What a life-changing experience for me! Over the years, we got to know each other better and better, and a genuine friendship grew. There were a number of years when we went hunting together with other friends in Texas, and I remember how much he enjoyed it; not hunting itself so much as sitting around the camp with friends and trading stories. Ned's life was a genuine American story, from shoe salesman to Governor, never losing his bearings on the journey. He was grounded in Tennessee; he loved the people of his state and they loved him back. I can't think of a finer epitaph."
Gov. Bill Haslam:
"This is a sad day for Tennessee. Governor McWherter was a true statesman who cared about this state and its citizens. He had a long and distinguished career in the legislative and executive branches as well as in business. I will always be grateful for his personal kindness to me and the wise advice he gave me during my first months in office. Crissy's and my thoughts and prayers go out to Mike and the entire McWherter family during this difficult time."
Former President Jimmy Carter:
"Ned McWherter was one of the most effective and finest public servants I have known. He was very helpful to me with his wise counsel while I was President and in the years after.Rosalynn and I are saddened to hear of his passing. We extend our sympathies to his family and many friends and to the people of Tennessee. Our nation has lost a great leader, and I a trusted friend."
Former President Bill Clinton:
"Hillary and I join his family and friends in grief over the passing of Governor Ned Ray McWherter, and in gratitude for his wonderful life. Ned was a great friend and a strong supporter to both of us. Just being around him always made me feel better. He calmed me when I was excited and lifted me up when I was down. His legendary ability to cut to the heart of a problem in a few blunt words was invaluable to me in the White House. Those of us who served as Governors with Ned knew that under his leadership, there was no state better run than Tennessee, because of his commitment to both continuous change and sensible management, and his uncanny blend of old-fashioned common sense and progressive values. He loved people, politics, and policy. He took his obligations seriously but always found something to laugh about. He was a bear of a man with a huge heart. I love him very much and I will miss him. I hope his memory will inspire young Tennesseans to follow in his footsteps. My thoughts are with his children, Michael and Linda, his grandchildren, and the people of Tennessee."
House Speaker Beth Harwell, R-Nashville:
"It was an honor to have known him. He was truly a statesman. He cared deeply about this state and cared deeply about being speaker of the House. He gave a lot of credibility to the legislative branch and he was a man I truly admired."
Tennessee Democratic Party Chairman Chip Forrester, who served on Gov. McWherter's first campaign gubernatorial campaign, and who is also mourning the death of his son this weekend at the University of Arizona where he attended:
"I'm saddened by the loss of one of Tennessee's great Democratic leaders. I had the high honor of serving in his first campaign for governor and count him as one of my true political mentors. His gift of understanding what working people cared about and his vision for what Tennessee could become has inspired me my entire political career. Gov. McWherter was every man and he was bigger than life. We have a lost a great one."
U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn.:
"I join my fellow Tennesseans in mourning the loss of one of our state's finest and most beloved public servants," said Corker. "Ned was always upbeat, looking for the best in people and situations. He was incredibly kind to me when I came in as commissioner of finance. I never forgot that and continued to seek his counsel throughout my career, as recently as the past few weeks. He was a great friend to me, and I will miss him."
Lt. Gov. and Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville:
"Few men have meant as much to as many Tennesseans as Gov. Ned Ray McWherter. This state has lost a true statesman and a true original. My heart and the hearts of all Tennesseans go out to the McWherter family today."
State Senate Democratic Caucus Chairman Lowe Finney of Jackson:
"Tennessee lost a true legend today in Governor Ned Ray McWherter. Governor McWherter left his legacy across our great state, and there is no doubt that we are better for his leadership, his vision and his compassion. Governor McWherter never hesitated to do what he believed was best for all Tennesseans, whether that was raising up our children through education reform, or creating jobs in rural areas through infrastructure improvements. Under his direction, Tennessee set a national standard for fiscal responsibility that endures today."
U.S. Rep. Stephen Fincher, R-Tenn.:
"Today is a sad day for all of Tennessee as we mourn the loss of Ned McWherter. My thoughts and prayers are with his family. Tennessee was blessed to have a true leader like Ned. I am grateful for his many contributions to this state and his legacy will forever be remembered."
Tennessee Republican Party Chairman Chris Devaney:
"I am saddened by the news of Governor McWherter's passing. I believe all Tennesseans, regardless of political affiliation, appreciate his years of service to our state even after he served as Speaker of the House and Governor. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family and friends during this difficult time."
State House Democratic Leader Craig Fitzhugh of Ripley:
"I was saddened to hear of the loss of my friend, former Speaker and Governor, Ned McWherter. My thoughts and prayers are with his family during this difficult time. Governor McWherter was a statesman of the first degree. He will be missed, but his legacy will live on for generations."
University of Memphis President Shirley Raines:
"Everyone associated with the University of Memphis is saddened by the death of Gov. Ned McWherter. His reputation as "The Education Governor" is nowhere more evident than the magnificent library on the U of M campus, which bears his name and honors his commitment to education in general and to the University of Memphis in particular. On behalf of all of us in the University of Memphis community, for whom his friendship has meant so much, I offer his family our sincerest condolences." /blockquote>