Sen. Alexander to Keynote Dunavant Awards

By Bill Dries

U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander will be the keynote speaker in April for the 11th annual Bobby Dunavant Public Service Awards.


Alexander, also a former Tennessee governor, U.S. Secretary of Education and president of the University of Tennessee, will speak at the April 21 luncheon at the Holiday Inn University of Memphis.

The awards, presented by the Rotary Club of Memphis East and the family of the late Shelby County Probate Court clerk, go to one local elected official and one local non-elected official who show the attributes of public service that Dunavant personified.

Those include being accessible to the public, being energetic and involved, serving as a mentor, being unpretentious and practicing scrupulous honesty.

The awards are sponsored by The Daily News and the University of Memphis.

Dunavant, who died in 2003, started his career in public service as a non-elected government employee at the city assessor’s office in the Shelby County Courthouse. He was elected Probate Court clerk in 1973 and retired in 1994 when he did not seek re-election.

Several past award recipients have also served as non-elected officials as well as elected officials. Others have had no desire to run for elected office and have remained non-elected officials for their entire careers in government.

Any citizen can nominate someone for the awards through entry forms on the Rotary Club website, The nomination period has been extended to March 14. The awards committee will also consider nominees from past years.

Last year’s winners were Memphis City Council member Jim Strickland and Shelby County Jury commissioner Clyde “Kit” Carson.

Bob Chandler, a member of the Rotary committee organizing the awards program, said the committee is encouraging past winners to attend this year’s ceremony and continuing to encourage Rotarians and others involved in the awards to invite an elected or appointed official in local government.

The idea behind the awards is to encourage public service through examples. The awards were founded at a time when political corruption cases involving local and state elected officials were in the headlines.

Alexander speaks at the awards ceremony in a year in which he is running for re-election to the Senate.

Alexander will have opposition in the August Republican primary from tea party elements in the GOP as well as Democratic opposition in the November general election.

The election challenge is an indication that public service is not service free from controversy or legitimate differences over the issues and decisions that are the business of government.