Among the crowd of 500 who gathered Monday, April 21, for the 11th annual Dunavant Public Servant Awards were fourth- and fifth-graders from White Station Elementary School.
U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander spoke at this week’s Dunavant Public Servant Awards. Criminal Court Judge Chris Craft and Collierville town administrator James Lewellen were honored.
(Daily News/Andrew J. Breig)
Although they were by a wall on the far side of the ballroom at the Holiday Inn University of Memphis, they drew the attention of U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, the keynote speaker for the Rotary Club of Memphis East event sponsored by The Daily News and the University of Memphis.
Alexander remembered being about their age the first time he saw a politician in person. His father took him to the courthouse square in Maryville to meet U.S. Rep. Howard H. Baker, the father of future U.S. Sen. Howard Baker.
It was a different time, before television was used extensively in political campaigns. So, Alexander’s only impression of Baker was through the picture on his campaign signs.
“He gave me a dime. But I remember mostly being shocked,” Alexander said. “Apparently the congressman had been using his high school graduation picture. He was older and wiser and wore glasses. … I remember when I left there thinking I’ve probably met the most important man I’m ever likely to meet other than my father. … That was how I was raised to respect people in public life.”
As a teenager he remembers having the same experience at Boys State, a mock government gathering each summer by the American Legion, where he met Democratic Gov. Frank Clement.
Alexander also won the Boys State election for governor by three votes.
As an adult, Alexander would work in the younger Howard Baker’s 1966 Senate campaign in which Baker defeated Clement. But he said he still admired Clement’s order integrating Clinton High School near Maryville in the 1950s.
“Role models are important … if our system of government is going to work right,” Alexander said. “This is not what it looks like on television all the time. But we have the most remarkable system of government in the world. … That system can only be as good as the men and women who serve in it … by the behavior they exhibit while they are there.”
The luncheon honored Criminal Court Judge Chris Craft and Collierville town administrator James Lewellen for their service – Craft as an elected official and Lewellen as a non-elected official.
They were nominated by the public and selected by a committee of Rotarians and the family of the late Probate Court Clerk Bobby Dunavant.
“It doesn’t take a village to raise a child. It takes a mom and a dad,” Craft began as he talked of the challenges the local criminal justice system sees on a daily basis. “But what do we do when they aren’t there?”
Craft said he is encouraged by efforts leaders in the system as well as faith-based organizations are making.
“I believe in the capacity of government to be great and do great things,” Lewellen said.
Before the luncheon, Alexander said he intends to follow up the state’s guarantee of free community college for all Tennesseans approved by the Legislature with a simpler application for federal student aid for books and other non-tuition expenses to attend community colleges.
Alexander unrolled a long application of 100 questions.
“I want to remove a second barrier, which is this ridiculously long application form for aid to go to community college,” he said. “What discourages many from going is the 100 questions on this form.”
He is proposing a new form with only two questions on income and the size of a student’s family.