Lamar Alexander

Former Tennessee first lady Honey Alexander dies at 77

(Image credit: Alexander family)

Honey Alexander, who was married to former governor and U.S. senator Lamar Alexander for 53 years, died Saturday at her home outside Maryville. She was 77.

The Los Angeles native met was a staffer for U.S. Sen John Tower of Texas when she met Lamar Alexander, then an aide to Tennessee Sen. Howard Baker Jr., at a softball game in Washington.

As first lady from 1979 to 1987, Honey Alexander led the state’s Healthy Children Initiative. Nashville’s Family & Children Service named its new building after Alexander in 2017. She had previously cofounded Leadership Nashville.

Here is the family’s obituary:

In 2017, when Nashville’s Family & Children Service named its new home “The Honey Alexander Center,” the organization said: “Honey Alexander has dedicated her life to the service of others.”

Honey, as everyone called her, was nicknamed perfectly by her older brother when she was a baby. She was born October 12, 1945, in Los Angeles, California, the second of five children of Frank and Bette Jo Simpson Buhler.  When she was two years old, her family moved to Victoria, Texas. She graduated from St Stephen’s Episcopal School in Austin, Texas, in 1963. Honey graduated from Smith College in 1967 with a major in American Studies and joined the Washington, D.C., staff of Texas U.S. Senator John G. Tower.

That summer, during a softball game between the Tower staff and the staff of Tennessee Senator Howard Baker, Jr, she met Baker staffer Lamar Alexander. He claims that she slid into first base. She said he imagined that. Nevertheless, 18 months later, on January 4, 1969, they were married in Victoria. They lived first in Washington, D.C., while her husband worked at the White House for President Richard M. Nixon.

In August 1970, when Honey moved to Nashville with her husband and 11-month-old son, Drew, she began to focus her attention on efforts relating to the health and wellbeing of families and children.  “Strong families make strong children,” she said in 2017. As Tennessee’s First Lady from 1979 to 1987, she led the statewide Healthy Children Initiative with the goal of providing prenatal health care for every child.  She was a member of the 1985-1986 Southern Regional Task Force on Infant Mortality, the Governor’s Task Forces on Day Care and on Youth Alcohol and Drug Abuse, and the U.S. Health Secretary’s Council on Health Promotion and Disease Prevention.

In 1976 Honey co-founded Leadership Nashville.  She served Family & Children Service as president of its board and chaired multiple events. She also served on the boards of the Adventure Science Center, Vanderbilt’s Kennedy Center, the Junior League of Nashville, the Dede Wallace Center and the Hermitage.  Nationally, she has been vice-chairman of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and board member of Family Service America and the National Archives Foundation.

During the dedication of the Honey Alexander Center in 2019, she reflected on the work she’d witnessed by physicians and mental health professionals and adoption professionals, saying, “It is not what I have given over the years but what I’ve gained from working with such inspirational people.” 

She was a co-founder of two successful businesses: In 1976, Blackberry Farm, and, in 1987, Corporate Child Care Inc., which ten years later merged with Bright Horizons to become the world’s largest provider of worksite child care.

Honey was an effective advocate and partner in her husband’s public service. She campaigned during Lamar’s six races for governor and U.S. Senator, served eight years as First Lady, moved to Knoxville when he was University of Tennessee president and then to Washington, D.C., when he was United States Education Secretary and Senator. During 1994-1996, she traveled on her own to 80 different Iowa communities in his campaign for President.   

In each of these roles, she always was smiling and thinking first of others. She was proper without pretense, demonstrating an unerring sense of what was appropriate whether it was as hostess for a state dinner for auto executives, or a Bonne Belle Run for women, or for the National Governors Association meeting in Nashville.

But the limelight was not Honey’s favorite place to be. During the 1996 New Hampshire presidential primary, Larry King asked her in a CNN interview: “Do you really want to be First Lady and live in the White House?” Honey answered quickly, “No.” She was happiest with her children and grandchildren, planting daffodils or tulips or roses, enjoying Mexican food with her friends and reading historical novels.

She arrived at the Governor’s residence in 1979 with Drew, 9, Leslee, 6, and Kathryn, 4.  Five months later, Will was born. That meant, she said,  “managing litters of puppies and kittens and guinea pigs and trying to make this a real home.”     

“There are lots of days when the children’s rooms don’t look perfect and neither do I,” she wrote in 1986. “I feel much less compelled to weed the gardens or clean the garage myself—I’d really rather be jogging. And the most important facets of my life remain the same: supporting Lamar, mothering the children, helping others, nurturing good physical, spiritual and emotional and intellectual health in me and those closet to me.” 

She loved to jog, 3-5 miles on most days. Neighbors to the Governor’s residence became accustomed to her running on Curtiswood Lane followed by state troopers in patrol cars. She participated in an Outward Bound Course.

After the family’s eight years in the “fishbowl of the governor’s residence,” Honey insisted that they “get away from it all” and the Alexanders moved to Sydney, Australia, where they lived for six months  “to try to get our feet back on the ground.”   

At 8, Leslee wrote in a school essay, “My mother is the lioness who keeps the family in hand and allows us to live and grow.”

Honey Alexander is survived by her husband of 53 years, Lamar Alexander; three children, Leslee Alexander of Maryville, Kathryn Alexander, of Briarcliff Manor, NY, and Will Alexander, of Nashville; nine grandchildren; her brothers Frank Buhler, Jr. and Bruce Buhler; and her sisters Blanche Carter and Jessica Weiland. A fourth child,Drew Alexander of Nashville, died on December 31, 2021. 

She has been a generous and long time member of Christ (Episcopal) Church Cathedral in Nashville.

The Alexander family expresses its gratitude to Joe Black, Karl Fillauer, Jannell Costa, April Davidson, Harley Raposa, Jo Mullins, Sandy Abel, Reynard Graham and Drs. David Rankin, John Sergent, Andrew Shinar, Tom Davis and Dale Berry for their loving care for Honey.

There will be a private graveside service for family members at the family cemetery at Hesse Creek Chapel in Walland, TN, with the Rev. William J. Carl, Honey’s brother-in-law, officiating. A memorial service will be held later at Christ Church Cathedral in Nashville.

In lieu of flowers, memorials may be made to the Honey Alexander Center, 2400 Clifton Avenue, Nashville 37209

New TNJ edition alert: This is the (Lamar!) way

New signs posted on the Capitol horseshoe indicate it is not named after Lamar Alexander. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

This week’s print edition of The Tennessee Journal is out. Here is what’s in it.

— No cooling off required: Lawmakers quick to land government positions.

— United in indignation: GOP outraged over pediatric transgender clinic at Vanderbilt hospital.

— Vouchers go back to court, appeals panel hears from charter operators.

Also: Tim Burchett can’t understand Australian golfer or “country clubbers,” Glenn Jacobs’ former chief of staff pleads guilty, Bill Lee names a new head of the Governor’s office of faith-based initiatives, and the Capitol horseshoe gets a new name.

As always, access the your copy of the TNJ here.

Or subscribe here.

Drew Alexander, son of former governor and senator, dies at 52

Drew Alexander, a music publishing executive in Nashville and son of former governor and senator Lamar Alexander, died Friday at age 52.

Here is the obituary from the Alexander family:

Nashville—Andrew Franklin Alexander, age 52, passed away December 31, 2021 after a short illness. Drew was born in Washington, D.C., on September 21, 1969. He moved with his family to Nashville, TN, when he was one year old. He attended Ensworth School, became a member of Westminster Presbyterian Church, and graduated from University School of Nashville. He then attended Kenyon College in Ohio where he earned a Bachelor of Arts in Music. In 1994 he went to work for Curb Records in Nashville as a receptionist. Quickly he rose to lead the company’s publishing division. As Vice President of Publishing, he oversaw the division’s forty-five employees and songwriters. A classically trained guitarist, Drew also directed creative and administrative aspects of the company where he set budgets, signed songwriters, negotiated contracts, placed songs, and acquired catalogs.

During his tenure Curb Music Publishing earned eighty-seven ASCAP, BMI and SESAC performance awards, and set records for the fastest rising country single and the longest charting country single in Billboard Country chart history. In 2017, after 23 years at Curb, Drew stepped down from his role as Director of Publishing but continued working with the Mike Curb Foundation. Drew also founded his own company, Blair Branch Music. He became an active community volunteer working with numerous Nashville agencies including Second Harvest Food Bank, Nashville Rescue Mission, and Room at the Inn. Drew’s motto was “give more than you take”. When he wasn’t on the phone raising money for the needy he often could be found serving lunch at homeless shelters.

Drew served on the boards of The Recording Academy, Belmont School of Music, Family and Children’s Service, the Community Resource Center, Leadership Music as Treasurer, and the Tennessee Residence Foundation as Secretary. He was a member of the Country Music Association, the Gospel Music Association, Academy of Country Music, and the Downtown Nashville Rotary Club.

Drew helped many artists and songwriters get their start in Nashville and had many friends in the music industry. Over the years he hosted small groups of songwriters and artists, including Lee Brice, Bill Anderson, Kyle Jacobs, Billy Montana, Kelsea Ballerini and many others, at writing retreats at his family’s home at Blackberry Farm in East Tennessee, at Evins Mill in Middle Tennessee, and at Bending Lake in Canada. From these dozens of sessions came more than 1,000 songs including many hits. Drew was active with the National Songwriters Association defending songwriters’ legal rights.

Drew loved his daughters, his friends and watching sports with them all, especially the Tennessee Titans and University of Tennessee basketball and football—and he loved to fish, traveling around the world in pursuit of new adventures. Drew is survived by two daughters, Lauren Blair Alexander and Helen Victoria Alexander of Nashville; his parents, Honey and Lamar Alexander of Walland, TN; two sisters, Leslee Alexander of Maryville, TN and Kathryn Alexander of Briarcliff Manor, NY; his brother, Will Alexander of Nashville; and, seven nieces and nephews. The Alexander family wishes to express our thanks to Drew’s friends Bruce Phillips and Hal Hardin for their many kindnesses to him.

There will be a private graveside service for family members at the family cemetery at Hesse Creek Chapel in Walland, TN, with the Rev. William J. Carl, Drew’s uncle, officiating. In lieu of flowers donations may be made to Second Harvest Food Bank of Middle Tennessee, 331 Great Circle Road, Nashville 37228. A Celebration of Life will be held at a later date in Nashville.

Alexander to be honored in joint convention

News coverage of Lamar Alexander’s first joint address to state lawmakers in 1979. The retired U.S. Senator is scheduled to speak to lawmakers on April 12, 2021.

Lamar Alexander, who served three terms in the U.S. Senate and two as governor, is scheduled to be honored in a joint convention of the General Assembly on Monday afternoon.

Alexander, a Maryville Republican who didn’t seek re-election last fall, will also be in Nashville to tour the new Tennessee State Library and Archives facility north of the state Capitol.

Alexander’s first speech to a joint convention of the House and Senate occurred more than 42 years ago when he delivered his first budget address in February 1979.

How the Tennessee delegation voted on the COVID relief package

Marsha Blackburn speaks at a business forum in Nashville on Aug. 15, 2018. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Tennessee’s congressional delegation was divided on the $900 billion COVID-19 relief package that includes $600 in direct payments to most Americans.

Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Maryville) voted in favor, while Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Brentwood) was one of just six members to vote against the measure in the upper chamber.

Among the Republicans in the House, Reps. Tim Burchett of Knoxville, Scott DesJarlais of Winchester, Mark Green of Ashland City, and John Rose of Cookeville were among the 53 no votes.

Fellow GOP Reps. Chuck Fleischmann of Chattanooga, David Kustoff of Memphis, and Phil Roe of Johnson City voted in favor, as did Democrats Jim Cooper of Nashville and Steve Cohen of Memphis.

The package passed the Senate on a 92-6 vote and the House 359-53. While Tennessee holds 2% of the seats in Congress, the state’s members accounted for 8.5% of the votes against the stimulus package.

Alexander delivers farewell speech to Senate

Retiring U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Maryville) has delivered his farewell speech in the Senate, drawing an emotional response from colleagues.

It doesn’t take a genius to figure out how to gum up the works of a body of one hundred that operates mainly by unanimous consent,” Alexander said. “Here’s my view: It’s hard to get here, hard to stay here, and while you’re here, you ought to try to accomplish something good for the country.

“But it’s hard to accomplish something if you don’t vote on amendments,” he said. “Lately, the Senate has been like joining the Grand Ole Opry and not being allowed to sing.”

Here are Alexander’s remarks, as prepared for delivery to the Senate on Wednesday.

On March 9, 1967, the newly elected United States Senator from Tennessee, Howard Baker, Jr., delivered his maiden address, his first speech on the floor of the Senate. He spoke too long.  Afterwards, Sen. Everett M. Dirksen of Illinois, the Republican leader who was also Baker’s father-in-law, walked over to congratulate him and offer this advice: “Howard,” Sen. Dirksen said. “You might occasionally enjoy the luxury of an unexpressed thought.”  Still good advice for my farewell address.  

As Sen. Baker’s legislative assistant I was his speechwriter for that maiden address 53 years ago—or at least I thought I was. The problem was, he almost never said in his speeches what I had written.  I asked him if something was wrong with our relationship.  He said, “Lamar, we have a perfect relationship. You write what you want to write and I’ll say what I want to say.”    

I’ve learned a couple of other lessons about making speeches.

One was from the author of Roots, Alex Haley, who once heard me speak and afterwards took me aside and suggested politely:  “If, when you begin a speech, you would start by saying, ‘Let me tell you a story’, someone might actually listen to what you have to say.”

The other lesson came from the journalist David Broder, who gave this advice to Ruth Marcus about her new Washington Post column: one idea per column.

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More from the TNJ interview with Lamar Alexander

U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Maryville), left, and Gov. Bill Haslam attend an event at the state Capitol in Nashville. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

The current print edition of The Tennessee Journal includes a wide-ranging interview with retiring U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Maryville) about his political beginnings, presidential bids, and the legacy of more than 50 years in public service.

Due to space limitations, not everything from the interview could make it into print. So here is some bonus material of Alexander speaking about his longtime relationship with political consultant Doug Bailey, and his role in coming up with Alexander’s 1,000-mile walk around the state as he was making his successful bid for governor in 1978. Bailey, who went on to found The Hotline in 1987, died in 2013.

Here is Alexander discussing his plans for running for governor again after having lost to Democrat Ray Blanton in 1974:

I was through with politics. [Late Tennessean columnist] Larry Daughtrey wrote there will never be a Republican governor for 50 years after ’74. I was practicing law, trying to find a way to make money, and dabbling in business. I bought Blackberry Farm, half of it. And Howard Baker got elected Republican leader in January 1977. He called me to come up there and help him set up the leader’s office. And [Alexander’s wife] Honey said, go on, you’re not doing anything here. So I went there for three months, and I met Doug.

President Carter was already in trouble, so I thought maybe Republicans will come back. And Honey said, ‘Well I don’t want you to run again if you do like you did before — you’ve got to have a sense of purpose and you’ve got to be in touch with the people.’ So we had a big talk about it, and they said what do you like? Well he likes to be outdoors, likes to hike, likes music. So we came up with the idea of the walk and the Washboard Band and spending the night with people instead of going to Rotary Clubs.

Doug at the time, he and John Deardourff were partners, and they were the premier Republican consultants. So he put it to television. And he became very close to me, and I to him, and he was a graduate of Tufts School of Diplomacy and kind of a high-minded person. So when I was elected, he would come down every week from Washington and meet with me and Tom Ingram, and we’d talk about how to be a better governor. Ned McWherter and all of them thought we were just playing politics. We really weren’t. We were doing enough politics to be effective.

Doug worked with me for eight years and tried to help me with how do I recruit this auto company, how do we sell the Better School Program, how do we persuade legislators to vote for the gas tax. The Homecoming idea was something he was very involved in and the Community Days we had in my second campaign.

So he helped design the plan for the walk, and then Lewis Lavine and Keel Hunt went out and mapped it out. They found the families I was going to stay with, marked the route. Every day I’d go out to the X I’d put out the night before, go out and shake hands, going off and doing this and that, and by about 5 o’clock go off with the family, go to their softball game, eat dinner with them in their house. They’d have their friends over, get up in the morning, go to the factory with them, and then go back to the X and start my day. So it was planned spontaneity.

Alexander: 40,000 Tennesseans could receive COVID-19 vaccine in December

U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Maryville) speaks at a Tennessee Titans event in Nashville on Dec. 13, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, the chairman of the Senate Health, Labor, Education, and Pensions Committee, says Tennessee is in line to receive enough COVID-19 vaccines to inoculate 40,000 people in December.

Alexander tells The Tennessee Journal he received a briefing from Moncef Slaoui, the head of the federal government’s coronavirus vaccine efforts, who said Tennessee could then receive enough doses for 50,000 people in the following month, and more beyond that. Slaoui told Alexander the majority of Americans could be vaccinated by the summer.

“It’s a spectacular achievement, which the president should be taking credit for — in a way that convinces people,” Alexander said. But the ongoing dispute over the presidential election results could hamper the rollout of the vaccine, he said.

“You don’t want to lose a day or an hour getting those 40,000 doses to Tennesseans because the transition was sloppy,” Alexander said.

Alexander expanded on his comments last week that Trump should be allowed to examine any claims of impropriety in the election results, noting that it took Democrat Al Gore 37 days to concede in 2000. But Alexander said there’s a limit to the strategies Trump should pursue in his effort to turn the tide against Democrat Joe Biden.

“There’s a right way to contest the election — others have done it — and there’s a wrong way. And the wrong way is this business of trying to get state legislators to send a substitute slate of electors,” Alexander said. “That really crosses the line.”

Alexander: ‘Very good chance’ Biden will be president

U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Maryville) attends an event at the state Capitol in Nashville on Dec. 17, 2018. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Republican U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Maryville) says the Trump administration should unlock transition resources for Democrat Joe Biden.

“If there is any chance whatsoever that Joe Biden will be the next president, and it looks like he has a very good chance, the Trump Administration should provide the Biden team with all transition materials, resources, and meetings necessary to ensure a smooth transition so that both sides are ready on day one,” Alexander said in a statement. “That especially should be true, for example, on vaccine distribution.”

Alexander’s former Senate colleague, Bob Corker (R-Chattanooga), also weighed in on Friday, saying Republicans have an obligation to “challenge demagoguery and patently false statements” in Trump’s election challenge:

Here’s the rest of Alexander’s statement:

Recounting votes and resolving disputes after a close election is not unprecedented and should reassure Americans that election results are valid.

Al Gore finally conceded 37 days after the 2000 election, and then made the best speech of his life accepting the result.

My hope is that the loser of this presidential election will follow Al Gore’s example, put the country first, congratulate the winner and help him to a good beginning of the new term.

The prompt and orderly transfer or reaffirmation of immense power after a presidential election is the most enduring symbol of our democracy.

Hagerty wins U.S. Senate race in Tennessee

Republican Bill Hagerty speaks to a reporter before casting his early vote in Nashville on Oct. 21, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Former Ambassador Bill Hagerty has won the U.S. Senate race in Tennessee, according to The Associated Press.

Hagerty will succeed U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Maryville) who is retiring after three terms.

“Congratulations to Bill Hagerty on tonight’s impressive victory. I have been proud to support Bill to occupy the Senate seat that Howard Baker, Al Gore, Fred Thompson and I all have held,” Alexander said in a statement. “He will be a terrific United States Senator for all Tennesseans.”

Hagerty faced Democrat Marquita Bradshaw, a Memphis environmental activist, in the general election.

Most of the action in the Senate contest came during the Republican primary, in which Hagerty prevailed over Vanderbilt surgeon Manny Sethi by 11 points after a spirited campaign featuring heavy outside spending.

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