McWherter statue unveiled
Sara Rachels, Staff Writer
Posted: Wednesday, October 20, 2010 12:42 pm
IN HONOR OF – Gov. Ned Ray McWherter stands beside a bronze likeness of himself that was uncovered this past Friday on the front lawn of the Weakley County Courthouse. About 2,000 people were in attendance in Dresden for this history-making event.
As his 80-year-old eyes turned skyward to the towering golden and pumpkin-colored hues of the Maple trees, he matter-of-factly remarked, “I remember when these trees were set out.”
Approximately 2,000 family and cabinet members, fellow politicians, friends and admirers watched on in interest as Gov. Ned Ray McWherter spoke and waited in anticipation of the pulling of a thick white rope that would reveal a bronze likeness of the former governor this past Friday on the Weakley County Courthouse’s front lawn.
McWherter’s friends and fellow politicians focused on the tremendous changes McWherter had made to the state’s roads, healthcare program and school system while he held office from 1987-1995. As the praise and admiration swelled, however, what began to stand out above all the changes was something mostly everyone filling the front lawn already knew – except for the accumulation of a few more lines of experience in his face, McWherter himself had not changed a bit. He remains, in fact, the same person who lived in a sharecropper’s tin-roofed cabin and attended Little Zion School during the Great Depression. He’s just been a few more miles since then.
“When I drove into Dresden, I thought of the big impact that Dad has had on the area,” McWherter’s son Mike reflected. “He had a vision to connect areas through the road system and move us forward.”
Gov. Phil Bredesen, the event’s keynote speaker, gave a brief account of McWherter’s accomplishments, but focused primarily on McWherter as a person.
“This is a proud day for your dad,” he said to Mike. “I’m here to honor the man who taught me about common sense.”
Bredesen spoke of McWherter’s entrance into the business world after being injured four times in football. He started in Dresden at the Bay Bee Shoe Company and worked his way up from there.
“If you ask someone to describe his persona, there is a universal feeling that he understands everyone. He translated this into meaningful public policy,” Bredesen emphasized.
In all actuality, the understanding translated into the creation of the 21st Century school program, the BEP, the Value-Added system which was a key element in winning Race to the Top, massive road connection projects and the creation of TennCare.
“Other states talked about it (the Value-Added system) and we’ve been doing it for 20 years,” Bredesen remarked. “He (McWherter) understood the connection between counties, he dedicated time in the office to building up roads and now they’re recognized as some of the finest in the country. When he took office, 42 of the 95 counties had a double-digit unemployment rate. When he left office, there were just two.”
Bredesen stressed that it was a “rare and valuable thing” to see counterparts roll up their sleeves to work.
“He remained true to his character and his story,” he concluded. “That dust of the Great Depression and those horse and buggy rides followed him into the office.”
Rep. Roy Herron provided some statistics. When McWherter held office, Dow Jones rated the Tennessee economy as the strongest in the South and fifth in the nation.
In his last two years as governor, McWherter was named the nation’s best governor and Tennessee was proclaimed the best managed state.
Two letters were read from two former presidents – Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton.
“You were always a friend and you impressed again and again. From day one, you were a perfect fit for the role. You held onto your values, your love for your state and you passed along your dedication to Mike,” Clinton wrote.
McWherter’s speech held all the traits each and every speaker mentioned about the former governor.
“I’ll always be grateful to all the folks who helped me along the way. I’ll always remember who I am. I was born in Palmersville and moved to Dresden. I never had a thought about running for public office, but I did and thanks to all, I was elected,” he admitted.
“I’m 80 years old today. When I reflect, I see more tomorrows than yesterdays. I’m looking forward to the generation of children of today. We have to make sure the differences we make are lasting. I love you for being here, for being supportive, for helping out. God bless each and every one. I hope you all outlive me, but I hope I live to be 90 or 100.”
And the statue was unveiled.
Seven-feet tall and bronze-tinted, like McWherter himself it will be forever rooted to the Weakley County and Dresden soil standing for a life unchanged by the past and present, but confidently and graciously welcoming in the future.