‘Lewie’ Donelson, TN GOP leader and prominent lawyer, dies at age 100

Lewis Randolph “Lewie” Donelson III – a pioneer in developing the modern Tennessee Republican Party, a former state finance commissioner and co-founder of the Tennessee-based national law firm Baker Donelson — died Thursday at age 100.

From the Commercial Appeal:

Mr. Donelson, who had celebrated his 100th birthday in October, was credited with helping revive the Republican Party in Tennessee starting in the 1950s, ushering in a two-party system as a bulwark against machine politics led by Memphis’ E.H. “Boss” Crump.

He was elected in 1967 as a charter member of the Memphis City Council and served as commissioner of finance and chief operating officer under Tennessee governor Lamar Alexander from 1979 to 1981.

…His passing was mourned by political and business leaders across the state. U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander called him one of Tennessee’s finest public servants, and Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland called him “a force for good in the early days of the Memphis City Council.”

Mr. Donelson “was an old-school moderate Republican” who was progressive on social issues, supportive of the civil rights movement and conservative on fiscal matters, said his son, Lewis Donelson IV of Austin, Texas.

He chaired political campaigns for candidates including former U.S. Senator, the late Howard Baker, and Rep. Dan Kuykendall, and was a delegate to Republican National Conventions in 1964, 1968 and 1988.

…Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam said in a statement, “It is hard to overstate the impact that Lewie had on Tennessee politics. His work as Commissioner of Finance and Administration is still looked at as the model of how the role should be performed. And, while today most people think of Tennessee as a red state, it wasn’t that way when Lewie and a few other brave souls began to build the modern day Republican Party.”

Haslam added, “Later he played a key role in making sure education was fairly funded throughout the state. Even in his nineties, he was incredibly helpful to me as I started out as a brand new Governor. Tennessee is a much better State because of Lewis Donelson. The last time I was with him he proudly showed me around the recently remodeled National Civil Rights Museum. We will miss him.”

A 1941 law graduate of Georgetown University, Mr. Donelson started the Donelson & Adams firm in Memphis in 1954. It merged in 1994 with Senator Baker’s law firm, Baker Worthington, to form Baker Donelson.

The firm grew into one of the country’s 60 largest, with more than 750 attorneys and 23 offices. Mr. Donelson served as outside general counsel for First Tennessee National Corp. for many years.

…Canale Funeral Directors has charge of arrangements. Funeral services will be at 2 p.m. Monday at Idlewild Presbyterian Church. There will be a private burial service in Elmwood Cemetery.

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