William Logan “Dick” Barry, who served as speaker of the state House of Representatives in the 1960s and then executive assistant to Gov. Buford Ellington, has died in a Lexington nursing home at age 89, according to friends.
“Dick Barry’s death marks the end of an era,” said former Knoxville Mayor Victor Ashe, who served in the state House while Barry was top aide to Ellington.
“He was a solid rock of integrity and a real historian,” said Ashe Thursday “State government was made better by his participation and leadership.”
State Rep. Steve McDaniel, R-Parkers Crossroads, said Barry died Wednesday evening at a Lexington nursing home, where he had resided in recent weeks after hospital treatment for an illness.
Barry, a lawyer who once served as publisher of the Lexington Progress newspaper, was elected to the state House in 1954 and became floor leader in 1958 and then in 1963 and with the support of Gov. Frank Clement was elected speaker. He served as speaker until 1967, when joined the Ellington administration and served until Democrat Ellington left office in January, 1971, with the inauguration of Republican Gov. Winfield Dunn.
“Intellectually, he was one of the most brilliant people I’ve ever had the pleasure to talk with,” said McDaniel. “He had a memory that was unbelievable – a reservoir of history of his state, his community and the world.”
Barry never owned a TV or computer, McDaniel said, but followed current events though subscriptions to several newspapers and “constantly read” other publications and books.
In accordance with Barry’s wishes, no formal funeral service is planned and at this point no memorial service has been scheduled.
Ashe recalled that Barry “masterminded” the re-election of William Snodgrass as state comptroller in the early 1970s, after the Legislature’s Democratic caucuses voted to replace him with Floyd Kephart. Traditionally, the nominee of the Democratic caucus got all Democratic votes and thus was assured of election by the full House and Senate when Democrats held a majority.
In that situation, however, a coalition of Republicans and dissident Democrats was formed that allowed Snodgrass to prevail in the floor vote.
In an interview last year with Tennessee History for Kids, Barry recalled disagreeing while speaker with Clement’s opposition to the death penalty and his role in talking Clement out appointing himself to the U.S. Senate following the death of Sen. Estes Kefauver in 1963.
“Gov. Clement called me that night, about midnight, and told me (about Kefauver death). Clement also told me that he wanted to be appointed to replace Kefauver as senator, and for state Senator Jared Maddux, who had previously been lieutenant governor, to become governor in his place,” Barry said.
“Maddux and I met him in Cookeville and talked him out of it. We knew that the voters didn’t like that sort of thing and that if he did that, we thought he’d lose the next election. After all, the people of Tennessee had elected him governor. Once they do that, they don’t want you to shift over and become a senator. So, instead, Clement appointed Herbert Walters to take Kefauver’s place,” he said.
Note: Bill Carey’s 2012 interview with Barry is a recommended read, HERE.