From former President Bill Clinton, who credited McWherter for helping him win the presidency (and who once said his first impression on meeting McWherter was “My Gosh, a redneck Budda.”):
“Hillary and I join his family and friends in grief over the passing of Governor Ned Ray McWherter, and in gratitude for his wonderful life. Ned was a great friend and a strong supporter to both of us. Just being around him always made me feel better. He calmed me when I was excited and lifted me up when I was down. His legendary ability to cut to the heart of a problem in a few blunt words was invaluable to me in the White House.
Those of us who served as Governors with Ned knew that under his leadership, there was no state better run than Tennessee, because of his commitment to both continuous change and sensible management, and his uncanny blend of old-fashioned common sense and progressive values. He loved people, politics, and policy. He took his obligations seriously but always found something to laugh about.
He was a bear of a man with a huge heart. I love him very much and I will miss him. I hope his memory will inspire young Tennesseans to follow in his footsteps. My thoughts are with his children, Michael and Linda, his grandchildren, and the people of Tennessee.”
From Sen. Lamar Alexander, who preceded McWherter as governor of Tennessee:
“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.”
From former Gov. Don Sundquist, who succeeded him in office:
“He was a giant of a man — not just in stature but in leadership and governing. We had a very special relationship. We talked regularly while I served, and continued after I left office. He understood the average Tennessean’s need to feel that they are represented by someone who understands the problems they face. I tried to follow that example.”
From former Gov. Phil Bredesen (via AP):
“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.”
Bredesen also recalled that he and McWherter went hunting together (mostly in Texas) several times with others. “I remember how much he enjoyed it; not hunting itself so much as sitting around the camp with friends and trading stories.”
Former President Jimmy Carter called McWherter “one of the most effective and finest public servants I have known. Our nation has lost a great leader, and I a trusted friend.” (via AP)
From Gov. Bill Haslam, whose father, Jim, once toyed with running against McWherter for governor:
“This is a sad day for Tennessee. Governor McWherter was a true statesman who cared about this state and its citizens. He had a long and distinguished career in the legislative and executive branches as well as in business. 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.”
From House Speaker Beth Harwell, the first woman to serve in a position McWherter held for many years:
“Tennessee lost a true statesman today with the passing of Governor McWherter. He understood the role of the legislative body, and he carried it out to the fullest. He will be missed, and my heart goes out to his family during this difficult time.”
From state Democratic Chairman Chip Forrester, who worked on McWherter’s first gubernatorial campaign in 1986:
“I’m saddened by the loss of one of Tennessee’s great Democratic leaders. I had the high honor of serving in his first campaign for governor and count him as one of my true political mentors. His gift of understanding what working people cared about and his vision for what Tennessee could become has inspired me my entire political career. Gov. McWherter was every man and he was bigger than life. We have a lost a great one.”
From state Republican Chairman Chris Devaney:
“I am saddened by the news of Governor McWherter’s passing. I believe all Tennesseans, regardless of political affiliation, appreciate his years of service to our state even after he served as Speaker of the House and Governor. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family and friends during this difficult time.”
From Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey:
Few men have meant as much to as many Tennesseans as Gov. Ned Ray McWherter. This state has lost a true statesman and a true original. My heart and the hearts of all Tennesseans go out to the McWherter family today.
From the state House Democratic Caucus:
Ned McWherter was our House speaker. He was our governor. And, he was our friend. He taught us how to bring new business, better education and prosperity to our state while taking care of those Tennesseans who many times went without. Most of all, he taught us what it was about to be a Democrat while working with our friends on the other side of the aisle.
Today is a truly sad day for the state of Tennessee. He will be sorely missed, though he will always be here with us as we continue to work for the betterment of the wonderful state of Tennessee and the United States of America.
From U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper:
“Ned was a giant of Tennessee politics in every sense of the word. “We Miss Ned” bumper stickers are still seen around Nashville because he was one of the best governors in history.”
State Sen. Lowe Finney, D-Jackson:
“Tennessee lost a true legend today in Governor Ned Ray McWherter,” said Senate Democratic Caucus Chairman Lowe Finney of Jackson. “Governor McWherter left his legacy across our great state, and there is no doubt that we are better for his leadership, his vision and his compassion.
“Governor McWherter never hesitated to do what he believed was best for all Tennesseans, whether that was raising up our children through education reform, or creating jobs in rural areas through infrastructure improvements. Under his direction, Tennessee set a national standard for fiscal responsibility that endures today.
From state Sen. Roy Herron, D-Dresden, who took McWherter’s House seat when McWherter was elected governor:
Governor McWherter was our greatest governor during my lifetime, and I believe he was our greatest governor during Tennessee’s lifetime.
Herron also re-distributed a 1994 column he wrote on the late governor. Here is an excerpt:
Governor McWherter led Tennessee to set records in the economy, job growth, education, building roads, criminal justice, healthcare, lowering taxes and debt.
Decades in business and 18 years in the legislature, including a record 14 as House speaker, made Ned McWherter the most experienced governor Tennessee ever chosen. He really did only need ”a cup of coffee and two vanilla wafers” before he was ready to work.
And work he did. He and his team worked like heck from early till late, with weekdays and weekends blurring together.
Governor McWherter is the first to give credit to others for Tennessee’s historic records and national marks in jobs, economic growth, education, roads, criminal justice, health care and managing state government. But he was the leader, the chief executive who knew how to work with the General Assembly, his Cabinet and state workers, private citizens, all of Tennessee.
He is right to say Tennesseans accomplish these things together. But we are right to say that few, if any, of these achievements would have happened without his leadership.
Now Governing magazine has judged Ned McWherter the nation’s best governor.
When historians put together the next exhibit of Tennessee treasures, they ought to recognize that America’s best governor today, and the best governor in Tennessee’s first 200 years, was our own Ned McWherter.
From Sen. Bob Corker:
“I join my fellow Tennesseans in mourning the loss of one of our state’s finest and most beloved public servants,” said Corker. “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, as recently as the past few weeks. He was a great friend to me, and I will miss him.”
From former Vice President Al Gore Jr.:
“With Ned’s passing Tennessee has lost a true giant. Regarded by many as the greatest governor in our state’s modern history, he fused the demands of tough executive management with the authentic touch of the common man.”
From House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick (via AP):
“When I went off to the Gulf War with the National Guard unit, he visited my unit. My wife was pregnant at the time, and he gave her his phone number in case she ever had any problems. And sure enough, she was on television and had some weirdo call and threaten her. And she called that number and he answered personally; it was his home phone number. He made sure the police got out there.”
From House Democratic Leader Mike Turner (via AP):
“He was one of the most universally liked governors this state’s ever had. He was somebody admired across the country. He had great support from both Republicans and Democrats. He was a down to earth man.”