Notable deaths in 2021 included former U.S. Sen. Brock, state Supreme Court Justice Clark

Former Sen. Bill Brock (R-Chattanooga) speaks with U.S. Rep. Tim Burchett (R-Knoxville), right, at a reception before the state Repbuilcan Party’s Statesmen’s Dinner on June 15, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

As 2021 draws to a close, we take a look back at some of the year’s notable deaths. They include former U.S. Sen. Bill Brock, state Supreme Court Justice Connie Clark, and radio talk show host Phil Valentine. Several former state lawmakers also passed away this year, including Mike Carter, Jim Coley, Roscoe Dixon, Thelma Harper, Jim Holcomb, Cotton Ivy, Carl Moore, and David Shepard.

Here is a roundup of the year’s obituaries, as culled from the print edition of the The Tennessee Journal:

Retired Memphis Criminal Court Judge James Beasley Jr. died at age 64. Appointed to the bench in 1995, Beasley presided over several high-profile cases. They included the trial of Jessie Dotson, who was convicted and sentenced to death for killing six people in 2008. Beasley previously worked as an assistant district attorney in Memphis, where he was part of the team prosecuting Charles McVean, a commodities broker who allegedly supplied the money to offer a $10,000 bribe to Sen. Randy McNally (R-Oak Ridge) to vote in favor of a gambling bill. McNally was wearing a wire for investigators as part of the FBI’s Rocky Top corruption probe. The case ended in a hung jury. 

Republican Bill Brock, who ended Albert Gore Sr.’s 32-year political career by defeating the Carthage Democrat in the 1970 U.S. Senate race, died at age 90. Brock lost his re-election bid in 1976, but would go on to serve as chair of the Republican National Committee in the aftermath of the Watergate scandal and was later named U.S. trade representative and labor secretary in President Ronald Reagan’s administration. In the 1970 race, Brock painted Gore as a liberal who was out of touch with Tennesseans on matters like school busing, gun control, school prayer, and the Vietnam war. His campaign slogan, “Bill Brock Believes in the Things We Believe In,” was criticized as playing into the racial fears of disaffected whites. When asked about the campaign in later years, Brock insisted it wasn’t focused on anything but bona fide issues. Six years later, Brock was put on the defensive for his vocal support of President Richard Nixon during Watergate, a poor economy, and the disclosure that the heir to a candy company fortune had paid just $2,000 in federal income taxes. Buttons declaring “I paid more taxes than Brock” became popular, and Democrat Jim Sasser went on to win the race by 5 percentage points.

Eddie Bryan, a longtime leader of the Tennessee AFLCIO, died at age 88. The Nashville native was first elected secretary-treasurer in 1981 and held the position until his retirement in 2011.

Frank Cagle, conservative columnist who relished poison pen, died at 72.  Cagle stepped down as managing editor of the Knoxville News Sentinel in 2001 to become deputy to then-Knoxville Mayor Victor Ashe. He was later named communications director for Republican Van Hilleary’s 2002 gubernatorial campaign against Democrat Phil Bredesen. But Cagle was always best at calling out officials’ shortcomings rather than propping them up. After Bredesen won the governor’s race, Cagle launched a talk radio show and later returned as an opinion writer for Metro Pulse, the News Sentinel, and Knox TN Today (he estimated in 2018 he had written more than a million words worth of columns over 30 years). Cagle had hoped to highlight what he saw as all-powerful House Speaker Jimmy Naifeh’s bullying ways when he referred to him in print in 1998 as “the Antichrist.” Much to Cagle’s chagrin, the Covington Democrat turned the tables by skillfully presenting himself as the victim of vicious attacks in the press. On a visit to the Capitol Hill press room more than 20 years later, Cagle shook his head at the memory, saying he had inadvertently managed to stir public sympathy for the iron-fisted Naifeh, who would remain in charge of the chamber for another decade. Cagle joked he expected the “Antichrist” line to appear on his gravestone.

Todd Campbell, a longtime legal adviser to Al Gore who was later named to the federal court bench in Nashville, died at age 64. The cause was a neurodegenerative disease Campbell had battled for years. Campbell, who as an attorney specialized in election law and constitutional matters, had worked on Gore’s presidential and Senate campaigns. He later served as counsel for the 1992 presidential transition followed by two years in the vice president’s office. Campbell had recently returned to private practice in Nashville when Gore recommended him to fill a federal court vacancy in the Middle District of Tennessee in 1995. Campbell presided over several high-profile legal disputes, including the Brian A. v. Sundquist class action case over foster care, which led to a 2001 consent decree requiring court supervision of the Department of Children’s Service for the next 15 years. Campbell in 2008 sentenced former state Sen. John Ford (D-Memphis) to 14 years in prison for wire fraud and concealment involving more than $850,000 in “consulting fees” he received from TennCare contractors while serving as a state lawmaker. His conviction was later thrown out by the 6th Circuit on the basis that Ford’s failure to report the consulting income to the Senate and state Registry wasn’t a crime under the federal statute prosecutors charged him with.

Rep. Mike Carter, whose refusal to participate in what he considered a whitewash of Rep. Glen Casada’s ethical lapses helped hasten the Franklin Republican’s resignation from the House speakership, died at age 67. Doctors had diagnosed Carter with pancreatic cancer last summer when he was having trouble shaking symptoms of COVID-19. The Ooltewah attorney was a general sessions judge from 1997 to 2005. Carter made a successful run for a redrawn Hamilton County legislative seat in 2012 and soon made an impression as a thoughtful and proactive lawmaker. When Casada became embroiled in a scandal involving racist and lewd text message exchanges with his then-chief of staff, Cade Cothren, Carter refused to sign a House Ethics Committee advisory opinion seeking to vindicate the speaker. Carter issued a lengthy letter saying that due to Casada’s willingness to “rig and predetermine an outcome of the ethics committee … he is not fit to hold the trust of his office.” Casada denounced Carter’s criticism as a “disgrace” and said Carter was using his position on the ethics panel as a platform for his own aspirations for the speakership. Once Casada finally announced his intention to step down, Carter was one of six members vying to take over as head of the chamber, but he ended up getting eliminated in the second of four rounds of voting in the contest won by Rep. Cameron Sexton.

Real estate investor George Cates died at age 83 in a single-engine plane crash in Madison County. Cates was former chair of Memphis Light, Gas & Water and the city’s Botanic Garden, Community Foundation, Rotary Club, and Symphony Orchestra. Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland lauded Cates for leading efforts to create the Overton Park Conservancy.

Alice Pearson Chapman, the managing partner at MP&F Strategic Communications, died of a brain aneurysm at age 49. Chapman had worked for the company since 1995, becoming a partner in 2011. She led MP&F’s work in support of the multiyear Red White and Food campaign to allow Tennessee supermarkets to sell wine. The General Assembly in 2014 approved a law allowing communities to decide the matter through local referendums, dozens of which have passed overwhelmingly.

Former state Rep. Jim Coley (R-Bartlett), one of most well-liked House members during his 14 years in the General Assembly, died at age 70. Coley got his start in politics by serving as campaign manager for Mike Kernell’s successful state House bid in 1974. The fact that Kernell was a Democrat capitalizing on the fallout from the Watergate scandal didn’t come between the two friends. Kernell, who would serve in the House until 2012, recalled that Coley was the state’s first 18-year-old to register to vote after the minimum age was changed from 21. He cast his vote to re-elect President Richard Nixon. Coley, a longtime teacher at Bolton High School, was elected to the House in 2006. His roots in public education informed his decision making as a lawmaker. In 2019, he opposed Gov. Bill Lee’s signature school voucher bill, which passed by a single vote. In 2011, Coley abstained from the floor vote on a bill to restrict teachers’ collective bargaining rights, saying later that “in my heart” he wanted to vote no. Colleagues underestimated Coley’s affable nature at their peril. When former Rep. Andy Holt (R-Dresden) was a freshman, his bill to allow faculty and staff at state colleges to carry firearms on campus was pulled from 51st to seventh on the House Judiciary Subcommittee’s calendar and advanced while Coley and other panel members were presenting bills elsewhere. Coley, who had wanted to amend the measure to increase training requirements, waited until the bill came up for a vote in the full judiciary panel and then moved for it to be sent to a summer study “in light of the way this got to this committee.” The motion passed without debate. In a subsequent email to Coley, a fuming Holt denounced his fellow Republican for what he called his “cowardly” and “underhanded” actions that made the GOP caucus look “dysfunctional and incompetent.” The email promptly leaked to staffers, lobbyists, and the media, with Holt coming off as a bully in subsequent news coverage.

Connie Clark, a main target of a well-funded — but ultimately unsuccessful — effort to oust Democratic justices from the Tennessee Supreme Court in 2014, died of cancer. She was 71. Clark served on the state’s highest court for 16 years, including two as chief justice. She wrote the order last year vacating a chancery court ruling allowing anyone fearful of contracting COVID-19 to vote by mail. Clark noted the unanimous decision came after Attorney General Herbert Slatery’s office had “conceded” people with underlying health conditions should be eligible to cast absentee ballots, a break with the state’s original position. While Chancellor Ellen Hobbs Lyle’s original order (which incensed Secretary of State Tre Hargett and legislative Republicans) was still in place for the primary, 12% of votes were cast by mail. After the Supreme Court decision, absentee balloting fell to about 7% during the general election, though it still represented a significant increase over the average of 2% for the previous three elections. Fending off challenges. Clark and fellow Democratic Justices Sharon Lee and Gary Wade were put on the defensive in 2014 by an effort largely bankrolled by Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey (R-Blountville) to boot one or all of them from the court in the hopes of accelerating a Republican majority on the bench. A TV ad by the Tennessee Forum urged voters to “find Judge Connie Clark and the liberals on your ballot” and vote to replace them. Neither of the other justices was mentioned, while Clark’s name was used twice. When the dust settled, each easily won their retention votes, though Clark’s margin of 12 percentage points was the smallest of the three incumbents.

Martha Cooper, the wife of U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper (D-Nashville), died Thursday at age 66.

State budget planer Mike Dedmon died at age 54, just days after his 30th anniversary with state government. Dedmon worked under five governors and nine finance commissioners, both Republicans and Democrats. Dedmon was known for his wry wit, affability, devotion to his state and job, knowledge of the arcane but vital art of budgeting, and love of the Grateful Dead rock band.

Former state Sen. Roscoe Dixon, one of five lawmakers convicted in the FBI’s Tennessee Waltz bribery sting, died at 71. The Memphis Democrat unsuccessfully sought dismissal of his case, contending it was a “race-based selective persecution.” He served four years.

Lynn Duncan, the wife of former U.S. Rep. Jimmy Duncan (R-Knoxville), died Sunday after a long illness. She was active with the Boys and Girls Clubs on the local and national levels and was named to the state Board of Probation and Parole by Gov. Don Sundquist in 2002.

Businessman William “Billy” Dunavant Jr., who made his family’s Dunavant Enterprises into the world’s largest cotton broker despite his own allergy to the plant, died at age 88. The company remains Memphis’ largest privately-owned enterprise. Dunavant owned the USFL’s Memphis Showboats in the mid-1980s and led the city’s ultimately unsuccessful efforts to land an NFL expansion franchise. He spearheaded the recruitment of Ducks Unlimited’s headquarters move from Chicago to Memphis.

Don Everly, who along with his late brother, Phil, made up the pioneering rock ‘n’ roll band the Everly Brothers, died in Nashville at 84. The brothers attended West High School in Knoxville and appeared on the radio show of supermarket impresario Cas Walker until he fired them in 1956 for their long hair and musical leanings. “They were good boys, but I just had to let them go,” Walker told The Knoxville News Sentinel in 1986. “That wiggle won’t sell groceries.”

Former Criminal Appeals Judge Alan Glenn, who retired from the bench earlier in the year, died at age 79. The former Memphis prosecutor had been appointed to the bench by Gov. Don Sundquist in 1999 and over 22 years authored more opinions than anyone else in the court’s history. Glenn served as chair of the Judicial Ethics Committee from 2005 to 2019 and issued a 2016 ruling allowing child victims to be accompanied by support animals in court.

Thelma Harper, the first African-American woman elected to the state Senate, died at age 80. The Nashville Democrat served seven four-years terms after succeeding the late Sen. Avon Williams in 1990. Harper, who always wore an elaborate hat — and seemingly never the same one twice — was previously a member of the Nashville Metro Council, where she made a name for herself by opposing a landfill near the predominately black Bordeaux neighborhood. During a 2019 dedication ceremony for an affordable housing project called Harper Cove Flats, she called it “surreal” to have the facility named in her honor near where she had been arrested 29 years earlier for protesting the dump. When Democrats’ fortunes in the Senate collapsed, Harper kept strong relations with the Republican supermajority and was rewarded with influential committee assignments. But Harper remained a vocal community advocate and was unafraid to lay into senators or lobbyists whom she perceived as standing in her way. “I’m no damn gentlewoman,” she chastised a Republican colleague who addressed her as such in 2010. 

Tootie Haskins, a state Capitol mainstay for five decades, died at age 75. Haskins in 1971 became one of the first professional staffers hired by the General Assembly, working for Sens. Bill Baird, Halbert Harvill, Milton Hamilton, and J. Reagor Motlow. But her time at the legislature is best remembered for her role as executive assistant to Senate Republican leader Ben Atchley of Knoxville from 1980 until 2004. Upon her retirement, Haskins worked the information desk at the Legislative Plaza office complex and gave tours of the Capitol. She also served on the State Capitol Commission and as a docent at the governor’s mansion and remained heavily involved in Republican politics on the local and state levels.

Hank Hillin, who as an FBI agent investigated corruption in then-Gov. Ray Blanton’s administration, died t at age 90. Hillin in 1990 trounced incumbent Nashville Sheriff Fate Thomas, who later went to prison on federal fraud charges. Hillin lost his 1994 reelection bid after being criticized for breaking 1990 campaign pledges to cut the budget, reduce department employees’ take-home cars, and end cronyism. Winning candidate Gayle Ray later abandoned her own promise to seek the dissolution of the sheriff’s office. Hillin ran for sheriff again in 2002, but lost to Daron Hall.

Warren Hodges, a former U.S. attorney who filed a 1960 lawsuit against white business owners in Haywood County for seeking to punish black residents for registering to vote, died at age 99. Hodges, an appointee of Republican President Dwight Eisenhower, sued 29 white farmers and businessmen under the Civil Rights Act of 1957. The lawsuit alleged they were conspiring to bring economic harm to African Americans who had participated in a voter registration drive by denying them sharecropping loans, which led to their evictions. The displaced families established tent cities in areas provided by sympathetic landowners (including the late state Senate Speaker John Wilder, a Mason Democrat who was later honored for his actions by the NAACP). They also were often barred from buying food and supplies at local stores. The litigation against landowners and merchants in Haywood and Fayette counties ended with a consent decree barring further election interference in 1962.

Jim Holcomb, who demonstrated power of grassroots conservatives, died at age 76. Holcomb, then a state senator from Sullivan County, wasn’t considered among the strongest candidates in the crowded Republican primary to succeed retiring U.S. Rep. Jimmy Quillen of Kingsport in 1996. But when the results were counted, he nearly scored a major upset by falling just 331 votes short of the GOP nomination. It wasn’t the first time Holcomb exceeded expectations by tapping into an energized base of religious conservatives. Holcomb, a marriage therapist, defeated incumbent state Rep. Dana Moore Patterson (D-Bristol), the daughter of sitting state Sen. Carl Moore, in 1986. Six years later, he was the underdog in the race to succeed retiring Sen. Ruth Montgomery (R-Kingsport). Despite being heavily outspent, Holcomb won the election. After deciding against a rematch for Congress in 1998, Holcomb took on a government relations role for Bristol-based King Pharmaceuticals. He also changed his longstanding opposition to political action committees by taking over management of King CEO John Gregory’s Tennessee Conservative PAC, a major donor to Republican causes and candidates for the next decade.

Lamarse H. “Cotton” Ivy, whose humorous tales of country living landed him on the stage of the Grand Ole Opry and the Hee Haw show on CBS, died in his hometown of Decaturville after an extended illness. He was 91. One of Ivy’s classic tales had to do with the longevity of his community’s denizens: An out-of-towner happens upon an “old timer” crying on his porch. Asked what’s wrong, the man tells the visitor he has been “whupped” by his father. Amazed the elderly gentleman’s father is still alive, the visitor asks why on earth he had been disciplined. His answer: “For cussin’ grandpa.” Ivy, a Democrat, ran for an open state House seat comprising all of Wayne, Perry, and Decatur counties and part of Henderson County in 1984. He criticized Republican opponent G.L. Teague for opposing the Tennessee Sunshine Law during a previous stint in the legislature in the 1970s. Meanwhile, Teague dismissed Ivy as a “clown.” Ivy’s personal popularity helped him win the election, and he went on to serve two terms before bowing out in 1988 to concentrate on campaigning on behalf of Democratic U.S. Sen. Al Gore’s presidential campaign and later to serve as agriculture commissioner in Gov. Ned Ray McWherter’s administration.

Terry Lafferty, who served as a Shelby County Criminal Court judge from 1977 until 1997, died at age 89. In 1998, he ruled anti-obscenity groups couldn’t finance criminal cases against topless nightclubs, finding that decisions about whether to prosecute must be “unaffected by private interests.” Following his retirement, Lafferty presided as a senior judge over several high-profile criminal cases around the state. 

Dan Lee, a sergeant at arms in the state Senate since 2007, died at 72.

Carl R. Moore, a former state senator, lobbyist, and cofounder of the Bristol Motor Speedway, died at age 91. Moore and two fellow businessmen were inspired to build a racetrack after attending a NASCAR race in Charlotte. Moore was elected to the state House in 1964 and soon rose to become chair of the Local Government Committee. But the Democrat decided against seeking a third term in 1968, citing the extra time commitment required by the General Assembly’s move from bi-annual sessions to meeting every year. Moore ran for the Senate in 1976 (the year he and his partners sold the Bristol track), defeating incumbent Republican Hayden Baker as Democrats surged to gain 23 seats in the 33-member chamber. Moore soon chafed at the leadership of longtime Speaker John Wilder (D-Mason) and helped direct an effort in 1980 to nominate someone else to lead the chamber. But the insurgents couldn’t agree on whom to coalesce behind, and Wilder was renominated. As a consequence, Moore lost his chairmanship of Government Operations but was rehabilitated two years later as head of the Commerce Committee. That didn’t keep him from backing later efforts to weaken or oust the speaker. By 1986, the number of anti-Wilder members had swollen to as many as 16 of 23 Democrats, giving them hope they could finally elect a more partisan speaker. This time, Moore and Sen. Riley Darnell of Clarksville jockeyed for the nomination. The latter won out, but the result helped Wilder pick off a few Democrats unhappy with the outcome and give him enough votes to build a coalition with Republicans. An 11th-hour effort to replace Darnell with the more business-friendly Moore failed to garner enough support to change the outcome. Given the repeated failure to topple Wilder (who would hang on to the chamber’s top job until 2007), Moore retired in 1988. He joined a lobbying firm founded by former Nashville Mayor Richard Fulton and struck out on his own a decade later.

Shelbyville Times-Gazette editor Jason Reynolds died of COVID-19 and pneumonia. He was 46. Reynolds was a staffer at the newspaper from 2012 until 2018, when he left to write for the Murfreesboro Post and run a blog and podcast called “The Followers of the Cross” about Christian authors, musicians, and actors. He was hired as the Times-Gazette editor in February.

Sister Megan Rice, a Catholic nun who breached the Y-12 National Security Complex and spent two hours inside the Oak Ridge facility in 2012, died at age 91. Rice and two fellow nuclear protesters said they had no remorse for their actions. “My regret is I waited 70 years,” Rice said at her trial.

Jimmy Allen Ruth, a Trailways bus driver who agreed in 1961 to take Nashville Freedom Riders to Jackson, Miss., when all others refused, died in Bartlett at age 83. Ruth’s memorabilia are on display at the Tennessee State Museum.

Former state Rep. David Shepard (D-Dickson) died after a long fight with cancer and then COVID-19. He was 73. The pharmacist served in the General Assembly for 16 years, winning his last race in 2014 by just 16 votes over Republican Michael Curcio, who would succeed Shepard following his retirement two years later. Shepard, a Vietnam veteran who was awarded a Bronze Star, was an early sponsor of a bill to allow wine to be sold in Tennessee supermarkets when the prospects for the measure seemed near impossible.

Forrest Shoaf, an investment banker and onetime Republican congressional candidate, died at 71. He was a West Point graduate with a Harvard law degree who took a leave from the Nashville firm Bass, Berry & Sims to serve as general counsel to former Gov. Lamar Alexander’s 1996 presidential campaign. Shoaf wanted to run for the open 5th Congressional District in 2002, only to find redistricting had placed his home in the 7th District. So, he decided to run for the latter but ended up coming in a distant fifth in the GOP nomination contest won by Marsha Blackburn of Brentwood. He later called his longshot bid a “cure for narcissism.” Shoaf went on to become a political commentator and later served as a top executive with Cracker Barrel Old Country Stores. He was a finalist to fill a state Court of Appeals vacancy in 2014 and was working for Atlanta-based Resurgent Financial Advisors until stepping down this spring due to worsening health problems.

John G. Stewart, a former vice president for economic development for the Tennessee Valley Authority and a onetime communications director for the Democratic National Committee (where the Watergate burglars were arrested in his office in 1972), has died at 86. Stewart was an aide to U.S. Sen. Hubert H. Humphrey when the Minnesota Democrat was spearheading the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Stewart wrote a book about the passage of the landmark legislation titled When Democracy Worked. Stewart later chaired the Tennesseans for Fair Taxation, a group advocating for a state income tax. Asked in 2003 about the results of a poll showing only 27% of Tennesseans supported the idea, Stewart blamed the survey’s methodology, saying it was “sort of like asking a patient if he favors having his appendix removed without making clear that there are some well-defined health care benefits in doing so.” Stewart’s son is state Rep. Mike Stewart (D-Nashville).

Phil Valentine, a conservative talk radio host who questioned the need for healthy people to be vaccinated against COVID-19, died after becoming infected by the virus. He was 61. Valentine had told listeners he didn’t think he would die if he got “this COVID thing,” so he declined to get inoculated. After he was hospitalized, Mark Valentine said his brother regretted not becoming “a more vocal advocate” for vaccines until after he had become sick. He also got a doctor to prescribe ivermectin, a drug used to treat parasites in livestock, despite U.S. Food and Drug Administration warnings against taking it to try to cure COVID-19. Valentine was a longtime disc jockey before finding his niche in conservative political commentary. It was a break with his family’s political history: His father, Tim, had been a Democratic congressman from North Carolina for 12 years. The talk radio craze reached its apogee in Tennessee following Republican Gov. Don Sundquist’s proposal to introduce a state income tax in the late 1990s. Valentine, along with rival hosts Steve Gill and Dave Ramsey, helped keep the issue in the spotlight by hosting rallies and urging opponents to drive around the state Capitol complex with horns blaring. In 2001, a last-gasp effort to find an income tax compromise was being discussed between Democratic advocates and a faction of Republicans. Under the emerging proposal, the issue would be put to a popular vote. Then-state Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Brentwood) emailed her assistant that an income tax surprise was in the works and instructed her to contact Valentine and others to “send troops.” Protesters soon began circling the Capitol. Some got inside and pounded on the Senate door, disrupting proceedings. The compromise never ended up materializing. Valentine later divulged that Blackburn had been tipped off about the possible income tax deal by Speaker John Wilder (D-Mason), whom supporters had been counting on to back the compromise.

Joe Webb, a former Senate chief sergeant-at-arms, died at 84. The retired Nashville police officer worked at the General Assembly from 1995 to 2008.

Memphis attorney Harry Wellford, a former federal appeals judge and campaign chairman for Republican Winfield Dunn’s winning gubernatorial bid in 1970, died at age 96. Wellford was a West Tennessee campaign manager for Republican Howard Baker’s unsuccessful U.S. Senate bid in 1964 and his winning campaign two years later. Showing it was no fluke for ascendant Republicans to win statewide races, Wellford then chaired Dunn’s gubernatorial bid, which was managed by a young former White House aide, Lamar Alexander. Shortly after the 1970 election, Baker recommended President Richard Nixon appoint Wellford to a new seat on the federal bench in Memphis. He was confirmed the following year and went on to preside over several high-profile cases, but received the most attention for serving as the judge in a conspiracy case brought against actors and distributors of the movie Deep Throat, which federal prosecutors called obscene. President Ronald Reagan nominated Wellford to the 6th Circuit in 1982 and he was confirmed the following year.


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