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Former Governor Dunn Meets His Fans at Bookstar Signing

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The lines were respectably long and composed for the most part of vintage campaign colleagues, who smiled and reminisced with the author as copies of From a Standing Start, Winfield Dunn’s political memoir, got signed Wednesday night at Bookstar on Poplar by the onetime Memphis dentist and ex-Tennessee governor.

A typical purchaser was Happy Jones, the well-known Memphis political activist who these days tends to back liberal candidates but back then saw the likeable Dunn, a Republican conservative, as the state’s best hope for reform. She, well, happily stood in line with old friends like retired Cordovans Roy and Sara Jane Greenlee or Dr. Shed Caffey or Harry Wellford, who was Dunn’s campaign manager for the 1970 upset win over Democrat John Jay Hooker.

When these political comrades-in-arms, most of them fellow toilers in the building of the modern Republican Party in Shelby County, finally reached the table, they got more than a signing. Almost uniformly, they got hugged by the author.

There were more youthful book-buyers, too – many of them cadres of today’s Republican Party, like Young Republican Drew Daniel or current Shelby County party chairman Bill Giannini or Fayette County state representative Dolores Gresham, who intends to take on longtime Democratic titan John Wilder in a state Senate race next year.

Gresham might well study From a Standing Start, which details how Dunn came from relative obscurity to out-point better-known Republicans in the ’70 GOP primary for governor, then overcame Nashvillian Hooker to become his party’s first elected governor since Reconstruction.

Nor is Dunn’s book the usual pro forma memoir. Opening it at random, one might find a passage in which the author, close up with Hooker at an oudoor event that summer of 1970, realizes to his horror that his Democratic opponent is wearing pancake makeup. The discovery fueled his determination in that campaign, Dunn writes.

But there is an aura of good will in the book, as there was at the Wednesday night signing. When someone mentioned the Hooker reference to Wellford, the former judge nodded and said, “But they’re good friends now,” then smiled and added, “And that's as it should be.”

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