year in review

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.

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Year in Review: The most viewed TNJ blog posts of 2020

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

Here are the Top 10 most viewed stories on the TNJ: On the Hill blog this year.

1. June 11: Sethi seeks to make political gain out of coronavirus pandemic.

2. May 11: Things get interesting in the open 1st District race.

3. Aug. 5: Hagerty does some creative accounting to obscure Romney donation.

4. March 30: Lee’s stay-at home order in detail.

5. April 20: Protest leader demands free refills.

6. April 20: The lockdown ends.

7. July 16: Hagerty launches the negative ad barrage.

8. Dec. 15: We’re No. 1.

9. Jan. 19: In like Flinn.

10. Nov. 13: Most signed, some didn’t.

Year in review: Tennessee obituaries of 2020

The state Capitol on March 16, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Here are some of the notable people who passed away in 2020, as covered by The Tennessee Journal:

January

Fred P. Graham, who covered legal affairs for The New York Times, CBS News, and Court TV, died at age 88. Graham earned law degrees from Vanderbilt and Oxford in England and practiced in Nashville for three years before going to Washington in 1963 to work as chief counsel to U.S. Sen. Estes Kefauver’s subcommittee on constitutional amendments. He made the transition to journalism in 1965, the first lawyer hired by the Times to cover the U.S. Supreme Court.

Bobby Lanier, a former top aide to three Shelby County mayors, died at age 90. Newly-elected Mayor Bill Morris in 1977 hired Lanier as his executive assistant, a position he also held for successors Jim Rout and A C Wharton. Lanier pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor charge of using inmates to cater a fundraiser for Morris’ ill-fated gubernatorial campaign in 1993.

LaFollette businessman and auctioneer Haskel “Hack” Ayers, who served in the state House in 1960, died at age 83. Ayers was the son of a Stinking Creek moonshiner slain by state troopers, and the grandfather of Ramsey Farrar & Bates lobbyist Addison Russell.

Former state Rep. Willie “Butch” Borchert (D-Camden) died at age 82. The retired pipefitter and his wife, Christine, were the former owners of The Catfish Place restaurants in Camden and McKenzie and the Borchert Fish Market. It was that experience, he said in committee hearings, that led him to oppose a 2007 state law to ban smoking in restaurants.

February

Vanderbilt biochemist Stanley Cohen, a 1986 Nobel Prize winner in physiology or medicine, died in Nashville at age 97.

Michael Silence, a former Knoxville News Sentinel reporter and columnist, died of a heart attack at age 62. He ran the “No Silence Here” blog of new aggregation and political commentary from 2004 until he was laid off in 2011.

Attorney Charlie Warfield, the last surviving member of the commission that drafted the charter for the merged governments of Nashville and Davidson County, died at age 95.

Victor Thompson, the longtime chief sergeant-at-arms for the state House, died at age 80. Thompson had been a beloved figure at the state Capitol complex since he was first hired in 1988.

March

Attorney Jim Gilliland, a co-chair of Willie Herenton’s transition team after he won election as the first black mayor of Memphis in 1991, has died at age 86. Gilliland later worked as general counsel to the U.S. Department of Agriculture and was an adviser to Al Gore for his 1988 and 2000 presidential bids. He also hired Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland to his first job.

Former state Sen. Jerry Cooper (D-Morrison), the longtime chairman of the powerful Senate Commerce Committee and a frequent swing vote on major legislation, died at 71. When he was making an unsuccessful bid for Congress in 1998, Cooper was fond of jokingly asking lobbyists: What do you call a defeated congressional candidate? Answer: Chairman.

Former federal judge Tom Wiseman, who won a three-way battle for state treasurer in 1970 against incumbent Charlie Whorley and banker Jake Butcher, died at 89.

Hershel Franks, the retired chief judge of the state Court of Appeals, died at 89. As a Hamilton County Chancery Court judge in 1976, Franks ruled that Tennessee’s ban on ministers serving the General Assembly violated the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. The decision was overruled by the state Supreme Court, which was itself reversed by the U.S. Supreme Court.

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