When Hunter Lane Jr., a pivotal figure in Memphis political history, died Sunday under care at Methodist Le Bonheur Hospice after a lengthy illness, it was a shock to realize he was all of 82 years old. For, even though Lane had become something of an elder statesman in the last decade or so and in recent years had been effectively disabled from the effects of Parkinson's disease and associated ailments, it was hard, even in his diminished presence, not to picture him in the bloom of youth.
Lane always seemed to embody the very essence of political reform. In 1963, he was elected commissioner of public service on the old Memphis City Commission, defeating John T. "Buddy" Dwyer, a longtime Crump-era fixture. He quickly became one of the leaders of a movement leading to a charter commission and the establishment in 1967 of the current mayor-council form of government in Memphis. Unembarrassed to be considered a political progressive, Lane was a candidate for mayor in the first election under the new system but lost in a multicandidate race to Henry Loeb, whose lot it was to be mayor at the time of the fateful sanitation strike of 1968 and the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King.
It is an unavoidable temptation to wonder how different local history would have been if Lane, an avowed early champion of racial equality and civil rights, had been at the helm of local government during that time. Elected to the Memphis School Board in 1971, Lane would serve as the board's president and attempted to be a calming force during a turbulent era that would see court-ordered busing. Lane availed himself of his bully pulpit and, in tandem with the late Lucius Burch and others, worked intensively in private to ease the transition of Memphis from an Old South sensibility into a new age of social and racial integration.
The son of a former major league baseball player, Lane was an athlete in his own right, quarterbacking the 1947 state champion Central High School Warriors football team. He went on to Washington and Lee University, where he earned both a bachelor's and a law degree. After college, he served as a Marine Corps officer and retired as a lieutenant colonel in the Marine reserves.
Lane was an avid hiker and exercise enthusiast. He was a lifelong member of the Wolf River Society and a committed partisan of the Wolf River Conservancy. He earned his living as a lawyer and maintained a consistent interest and participation in political and civic affairs until the encroachments of his illness finally made such activity difficult.
He leaves his wife Susan; a daughter, Dorothy; and two sons, Jim and Martin, the latter of whom, a film-maker and booster of local arts projects in the dedicated manner of his father, we are proud to acknowledge as a member of our own workforce here at Contemporary Media, Inc.