Friday, January 1, 2010

Wilder's Passing Draws Comments from Dignitaries

Posted By on Fri, Jan 1, 2010 at 1:22 PM

John Wilder, 1921-2010
  • John Wilder, 1921-2010
The passing, early on New Year's Day, of legendary legislative eminence John Wilder, who was Tennessee's lieutenant governor for 36 years, drew immediate comments from political dignitaries. Portions of their comments follow:

Memphis mayor A C Wharton referred to Wilder and himself as “kindred spirits” and said, “The Lt. Governor was the first person to call me with congratulations upon my election to Shelby County Mayor in 2002. We enjoyed many cups of coffee together at the Longtown Cafe in Somerville where he frequently held court. John called again just this past Christmas to convey his love to my family and me, for which I will always be grateful”

Governor Phil Bredesen said, ""While we often agreed on issues, I don't know that there are two people in Tennessee politics whose political styles are more different than John Wilder's and mine. Despite that, or perhaps because of it, we worked together well, we got some things done, and we grew a genuine friendship. It was a privilege to know this unique Tennessean; I wish it could have been for a longer time."

Interim Shelby County Mayor Joe Ford, who once worked for Wilder as a 21-year-old clerk-typist, said: “He was a family friend and a great public servant. He meant hundreds of millions for this city. He loved West Tennessee. He was a great lieutenant governor.”

9th District congressman Steve Cohen noted his long-term friendship with Wilder, one that resulted in “some 40 letters or notes from him” that the congressman and former state senator has kept as cherished momentoes. “John Wilder served this state as state senator and Lt. Governor for many years. He really did a lot for our community and for the University of Memphis in The University proudly has a John Wilder Tower now. There was hardly a project that the state was involved in the last 35 years that John Wilder didn’t have a part in. He stepped up during the civil rights era and never forgot the idea of people being treated equally."

8th District congressman John Tanner said, "With Gov. Wilder's passing, our state and country have lost a most dedicated public servant. I was honored to work alongside John in the Tennessee General Assembly and during my time in Congress. He had a great understanding of the problems facing Tennesseans and a strong willingness to work with others toward bipartisan solutions."

7th District congresswoman Marsha Blackburn said, ""Governor Wilder was a mentor to me and scores of other Tennesseans. He dedicated his life to the betterment of Tennessee. After a generation of public service, we know that it was a life well lived. On a series of issues, from sales tax deductability to the establishment of the Tennessee Economic Council on Women; Governor Wilder's influence and guidance were pivotal."

State Representative and former longtime House Speaker Jimmy Naifeh said, " Governor Wilder was one of the most honest men I have ever known. His integrity and commitment, not only to his district, but to the entire state of Tennessee, is a shining example of what it means to be a great leader. When you look up the word statesman in the dictionary, you are sure to find John Wilder's name. He was a good man."

U.S. Senator and former Governor Lamar Alexander said, ““John Wilder was a Tennessee institution, the very definition of a gentleman legislator. During the l980s, I saw firsthand how effective he could be when I worked with him on one of his most important contributions, the reorganization of the state board of education.”

District Attorney General and gubernatorial candidate Bill Gibbons said, “"As members of Governor Alexander's staff, my wife Julia and I got to know and work with Governor Wilder. After leaving Governor Alexander's staff, I continued to have contact with Governor Wilder in my capacities as a practicing lawyer, a local elected official, and district attorney. Governor Wilder's simple way of speaking masked his skill and complexity as an effective legislative leader.”

State Senate Democratic leader and gubernatorial candidate Jim Kyle said, "Since 1960, powerful people have come and gone in Tennessee, but John Wilder was a constant and steady presence. From civil rights, to the creation of an independent legislature, to the Tennessee Judicial Selection Plan, everything that has shaped modern Tennessee involved Governor Wilder. Ultimately, he became so much a part of the landscape that people didn't see him. But a closer look will find John Wilder's fingerprints on every good and progressive event of the last 50 years."

Jackson businessman and gubernatorial candidate Mike McWherter said, "Governor Wilder devoted his life to public service and played a pivotal role in the deliberation and passage of some of the most important laws to impact our state over the past half century.... Even in retirement Governor Wilder continued to serve others."

State Senator and Democratic Caucus chairman Lowe Finney said, "He was a man who often preferred the simpler title of 'Speaker,' and for 36 years, Tennessee benefited from the leadership of a Senate Speaker who saw opportunity in every challenge, who came to the public eye as a young state senator and spent the rest of his life fighting for teachers, improving the lives of state employees, and serving as a voice for farmers on Capitol Hill."

State Representative John DeBerry, chair of the legislative Black Caucus, said, "He was an innovator... To be speaker of such a politically divided organization as the Senate for as long as he was, is truly a remarkable feat. He's ... made a mark on the history of this state and I hope the people of Tennessee truly realize what a great treasure he was."

State Senator and 8th District congressional candidate Roy Herron said, "Tennessee has lost a giant, Heaven has gained a leader, and his beloved Marcelle has him with her again. John Wilder will be remembered for his long and record-setting service, but also for his faith in his Lord, Tennessee, the Senate, and his family. He was deeply committed to the rule of law, bipartisanship, racial equality and fiscal conservatism."

Former Circuit Court Judge and National Civil Rights Museum founder D'Army Bailey said, "In the passing of Lt. Governor John Wilder we have lost a spiritual man, statesman, humanitarian and friend to the common people. As founder of the National Civil Rights Museum, a State recognition for me which Wilder spearheaded, and the Museum’s president emeritus, I speak in those capacities to thank him and to say that without him there would be no National Civil Rights Museum."

State Senator Doug Henry, dean of the Tennessee Senate, said, ""John Wilder single-handedly made the Tennessee Senate, while he was there, what a Senate should be... He gave every member time and encouragement to promote what he wanted. He never told any member how to vote. He believed in a senator being a senator, as he used to put it. And that's a gift that hasn't been given to many legislators in my opinion."

[Additional released comment from 9th District congressman Steve Cohen, whose remarks above were delivered ex tempore on Friday: "John Wilder was like family to me. He was a significant force in Tennessee for over 50 years, and will be remembered as a legislative giant, a political genius, and for his knowledge of the law and due process. He loved the Senate and his late wife, Miss Marcelle, who was a gentle lady. John Wilder was proud of creating the state board of education and the Tennessee Plan which removed politics from the selection of Supreme Court judges.”

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