Ned McWherter


Ned McWherter : biography

October 15, 1930 – April 4, 2011


McWherter would have been an overwhelming favorite for a third term if he had been permitted to run for one by the state constitution; when asked about this, he stated that he would not have run for another term even if it had been permissible. Following the end of his second term as governor in 1995, McWherter was appointed to the Board of Governors of the United States Postal Service by President Bill Clinton. McWherter lived the remainder of his life in Tennessee, where he was very active in the Tennessee Democratic Party.

In the 2010 gubernatorial race, McWherter’s son, Mike, ran against Knoxville mayor Bill Haslam. The 79-year old McWherter helped his son campaign, and bought a red sports car to ride in campaign parades. Haslam won the election by a landslide.Jeff Woods, "," Nashville City Paper, 4 April 2011. Retrieved: 8 January 2013.

McWherter died on April 4, 2011, at Centennial Medical Center in Nashville, where he was being treated for cancer. Former President Clinton delivered remarks at McWherter’s memorial service, and numerous other public figures issued statements of condolence. McWherter is buried in Sunset Cemetery in Dresden.

Family and legacy

McWherter married Bette Jean (Beck) McWherter in 1953. She died of cancer in 1973. His son Michael Ray McWherter is a businessman and former candidate for governor, and his daughter Linda Ramsey is a doctor of physical education at the University of Tennessee at Martin."," Traveling Tennessee: The Campaign Blog of Team McWherter, 2010. Retrieved: 8 January 2013. McWherter funded the construction of the library at the University of Memphis and the Learning Resources Center at Middle Tennessee State University, and both buildings have been named in his honor. The Weakley County Library in Dresden has also been named for McWherter. A bronze statue of McWherter stands on the Weakley County Courthouse lawn.


As the 1986 governor’s race approached, Democrats struggled to find a candidate. Neither Bob Clement nor Anna Belle Clement O’Brien were interested in running, and the 1978 nominee, Jake Butcher, was facing bank fraud charges. Sensing an opportunity, McWherter entered the race, and defeated Public Service Commissioner Jane Eskind and Nashville mayor Richard Fulton for the nomination, winning 42% of the vote to 29% for Eskind, and 26% for Fulton. With Alexander term-limited, Republicans nominated former Governor Winfield Dunn.

Dunn’s campaign tried to portray McWherter as a West Tennessee beer salesman, though McWherter pointed out that Dunn was a co-owner of a hotel in Nashville that sold liquor, and noted that Pilot, a convenience store chain owned by Dunn’s campaign treasurer, Jim Haslam, was one of the state’s largest beer retailers. Dunn also failed to pick up a critical endorsement from East Tennessee congressman Jimmy Quillen, who was still bitter over Dunn’s veto of the ETSU medical school bill. McWherter ran a strong statewide campaign, visiting and organizing in all 95 counties. On election day, he defeated Dunn, 656,602 votes to 553,449.Phillip Langsdon, Tennessee: A Political History (Franklin, Tenn.: Hillsboro Press, 2000), pp. 397-400.

During his first term, McWherter insisted that all formal governmental proceedings be open to the public and press, thus implementing the spirit, as well as the letter, of the "sunshine law" he had helped to author and sponsor while a member of the House. His "21st century Schools" education reform program launched similar programs in other states and his replacement of the Medicaid program with the TennCare system gained national attention.Carroll Van West, "," Tennessee Encyclopedia of History and Culture, 2009. Retrieved: 8 January 2013. As governor, he also served nationally and locally on various councils and committees, including the board of governors, Council of State Governments, the Executive Committees of the Southern Conference, the Weakley County Head Start Program, and the Executive Committee of the Northwest Tennessee Economic Development District.