Speeches & Floor Statements

Floor Speech: "Remembering Harlan Mathews"

Posted on May 13, 2014

A few days ago we lost a prominent Tennessean, Harlan Mathews.  He was 87 years old, and he lived a long and distinguished life.

Harlan Mathews served in the Senate seat in which I now have the privilege of serving.  When Senator Al Gore was elected vice president – more than 20 years ago -- Harlan Mathews took his seat and then retired from the Senate after serving two years of his appointment, but that was, by a long shot, not a description of his public service.  

Senator Corker and I yesterday were at his funeral, a memorial service in Nashville, which was a beautiful service, a simple service, as he would have imagined.  The theme that kept coming through again and again was what a fine mentor and unselfish public servant Harlan Mathews had been in our state for 60 years.  He was a World War II veteran, came to Vanderbilt University, and in 1950, met a young governor whose name was Frank Clement -- a rising star in national politics.  He became his assistant and served in a variety of state government positions with very little interruption until he was appointed by Governor McWherter to serve for 2 years in Al Gore's seat.  Then, twenty years ago Harlan Mathews decided not to run for reelection and has lived the last 20 years in Nashville.  We were there with his wife Pat, his sons, and a host of friends. 

What I think about Harlan Mathews is that other than his great friend, former Governor Ned McWherter, no one had more friends around the state capitol than Harlan Mathews did. 

So we’re here today to pay tribute to him and to his family for a life well lived, for his service to the State of Tennessee, and for being a man who has mentored as many young public servants of our state as anyone I can think of. 


I thank the Senator from Tennessee.  Harlan was known for working quietly, and being modest.  The service was only about 40 or 45 minutes to reflect that. 

He would have been a terrific Senator if he had been here for 20 or 25 years because of what we know about him.  He wasn't out front.  He was behind the scenes.  He worked to get things done.  He was always results-oriented, and he didn't mind who got the credit.  Sometimes there is a shortage of that in the Senate -- then and now today.  He had those rare skills of the public servant that are always valuable and always needed.

I know his wife Pat, his sons Stan and Les, and his granddaughters Katie and Emily I know miss him deeply, and we do as well. Join us in admiring his life and his example.