Confehr: Ned called me 'Doc,' flag low for Capt. Garner

Monday, April 11, 2011

Tennessee Gov. Ned Ray McWherter had gravitas, that combination of personal charisma, weight, seriousness, dignity, and importance.

He could walk into a room and people turned to see what happened, admittedly because others saw something. That's in contrast to another governor in the '90s who could walk into a room unnoticed.

McWherter, who died Monday at age 80, could work a crowd better than Lyndon Johnson could "press the flesh," as the Texan would say. He was well received at a "Shrimp Boil" in Franklin just before Williamson County went for George W. Bush by 3-1.

That year, my chin had a scraggly beard. McWherter came from behind. I was eating shrimp. A big hand rested on my back and I was addressed as "Doc." Maybe he knew I was a reporter and decided to say hello when my mouth was full so I couldn't ask a question. He was as capable as Ronald Reagan to dance a little side step. McWherter also knew how to "ease along" by avoiding what he didn't have to do.

While speaker of the House, McWherter was to announce that the state law requiring seatbelt use was being sent to the Senate. He looked for Dr. Bob Sanders, Rutherford County's health director. Sanders successfully lobbied for the child restraint law and then for mandatory seatbelt use.

"Where's Dr. Seatbelt?" McWherter asked when the reason for the bill couldn't be found. The nickname was more of an honor than an indication that Sanders' name might have slipped his mind. Actually, McWherter probably didn't remember Doc.

McWherter would also summon his people to assist him by bending his trigger finger. It was practically an honor to be asked that way to help the man.

By now, many other tributes and tales have been told about the former governor.

But now, here in Lewisburg, we also remember Capt. James Garner.

Buried Tuesday as our Wednesday edition was being written, Garner was a Vietnam veteran who continued to protect Americans in his professional life. Since Sept. 1, 1988, Garner was an officer at the Marshall County Sheriff's Department.

His passing was why the county flew flags at half-staff Monday.

His passing came suddenly, perhaps a blessing compared to some alternatives. The man had heart surgery nearly a year and a half ago, but he was still known to "cut up" while he was still working at age 63.

That good humor was a blessing to those who spoke with him as he continued to work a desk job, handling the business side of a sheriff's department such as overseeing the fleet of patrol cruisers.

Some say the American Flag is flown lower only when there's a Presidential decision. Do we really have to ask the White House for such matters? Surely a lawman with nearly 23 years of service deserves such a sign of respect.

So does Ned Ray McWherter.

May his passing redouble research on a cure for cancer, or stronger campaigns for prevention.

These views are the author's and not necessarily reflective of the Tribune's views.