NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) -- Ned McWherter, a one-time factory worker who became a millionaire businessman, speaker of the state House and then a two-term Democratic governor, has died at the age 80.
His administrative assistant, Madelyn Pritchett, says McWherter of Dresden died Monday at a Nashville hospital where he was being treated for cancer.
McWherter was governor from 1987 to 1995, following 20 years in the Legislature, 14 of them leading the House. He also was a political adviser to Bill Clinton during his presidency.
Sen. Lamar Alexander, who served as gevernor from 1979 to 1987 released a statement remembering his successor, “When I became governor, Ned McWherter said, ‘I’m going to help him, because if he succeeds, our state succeeds.’ He was true to his word. That bipartisan spirit symbolized Ned’s entire career. He was one of our state’s finest public servants and a close friend. I will greatly miss him.”
Sen. Bob Corker said, "Ned was always upbeat, looking for the best in people and situations. He was incredibly kind to me when I came in as commissioner of finance. I never forgot that and continued to seek his counsel throughout my career."
Current Governor Bill Haslam released a statement saying, “This is a sad day for Tennessee... I will always be grateful for his personal kindness to me and the wise advice he gave me during my first months in office. Crissy’s and my thoughts and prayers go out to Mike and the entire McWherter family during this difficult time.”
Haslam's predecessor Phil Bredesen said, "Ned's life was a genuine American story, from shoe salesman to governor, never losing his bearings on the journey. He was grounded in Tennessee; he loved the people of his state and they loved him back. I can't think of a finer epitaph."
Even a former president was quick to sing McWherter's praises, with former President Jimmy Carter saying, "Ned McWherter was one of the most effective and finest public servants I have known. He was very helpful to me with his wise counsel while I was president and in the years after ... our nation has lost a great leader, and I, a trusted friend."
A child of sharecroppers, McWherter became a millionaire through various business enterprises before he was elected governor.
As governor, he supported education improvements that put more computers and technology in classrooms, increased teacher's pay, shrank class sizes and gave local school boards more control.
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)