Ned McWherter


Ned McWherter : biography

October 15, 1930 – April 4, 2011

In the late 1980s, a showdown erupted between Tennessee and North Carolina over the pollution of the Pigeon River, which rises in North Carolina and traverses a mountainous area before emptying into the French Broad River in East Tennessee. East Tennessee residents and environmentalists charged that toxins dumped into the river by the Champion Paper Mill in Canton, North Carolina, damaged the river’s economic potential and had led to an unusually high rate of cancer in lower Pigeon Valley communities. Canton residents argued that the town was economically dependent on the mill, which employed 2,000 workers.Nancy Herndon, "," Christian Science Monitor, 22 March 1989. Retrieved: 8 January 2013.

When the Environmental Protection Agency ordered Champion to upgrade the plant to meet Tennessee’s water quality standards, the company threatened to close the plant and lay off all 2,000 workers. East Tennessee residents held demonstrations, and asked that Governor McWherter not renew the plant’s water quality variance. Legislators from both states traded barbs, cars with Tennessee license plates were vandalized in North Carolina, and McWherter’s office was flooded with calls from angry North Carolina residents. Following an unscheduled trip to Canton, where he was confronted by a sheriff who told him he was "trespassing on Champion’s River," McWherter announced on Christmas Day, 1988, that would not renew the plant’s water quality variance.

McWherter was overwhelmingly re-elected to a second term in 1990, defeating the Republican nominee, first-term state representative Dwight Henry, 479,990 votes to 288,904. A tax study commission appointed during his first term reported at the beginning of his second, recommending a state income tax be implemented. An income tax has long been considered the third rail of Tennessee politics. McWherter gave the idea lukewarm support at first, but the idea was eventually dropped entirely, not to resurface again during his time as governor.

In 1990, McWherter was invited to speak at a chapel service at Freed-Hardeman University in Henderson, Tennessee at the request of his lifelong friend, E. Claude Gardner, then President of the University. In 1992, Senator Al Gore was elected Vice President, thus creating a vacancy in the Senate. McWherter appointed his deputy governor, Harlan Matthews, to serve as U.S. Senator until the 1994 election. In 1994, McWherter was named the nation’s most outstanding governor by Governing magazine.Richard Locker, "," Memphis Commercial Appeal, 4 April 2011. Retrieved: 9 January 2012.

Early life

McWherter was born in Palmersville, Weakley County, Tennessee, the son of Harmon Ray McWherter, a sharecropper, and Lucille (Smith) McWherter. He grew up in the Little Zion community near Palmersville, where he attended a one-room schoolhouse. In the early 1940s, his family moved to Ypsilanti, Michigan, where his father worked in wartime factories. In May 1945, the family moved to Dresden, Tennessee, where McWherter’s parents purchased the City Cafe, which they would operate for several years.

McWherter attended Dresden High School, where he was co-captain of the football team and president of the school’s Future Farmers of America chapter. After graduating, he attempted to play college football, first at the University of Tennessee at Martin, and then at the University of Memphis, and finally at Murray State, but he suffered a knee injury prior to each season at all three schools.

His college athletic career cut short, McWherter joined the Martin Shoe Company as a salesman. When the company’s line of sandals struggled against competition from cheaper Japanese imports, McWherter travelled throughout the Caribbean and Central America in an attempt to find retailers, eventually finding a market for the sandals in Puerto Rico. In 1964, McWherter founded Volunteer Distributing to distribute Anheuser-Busch beer in the Weakley area. Two years later, he opened Dresden’s first nursing home.

McWherter served for 21 years (1947–1968) in the Tennessee National Guard before retiring with the rank of captain. He was a member of the United Methodist Church., National Governors’ Association website