The East Shelby County Republican Club, largest such organization in Shelby County, was founded someime in the 1970s by a group of GOP pioneers who included one Don Sundquist, then an advertising man and Republican activist for whom an active political career of his own was still years away.
On Tuesday night of this week at the Great Hall of Germantown, the club held its annual Master Meal, a buffet-style banquet which serves up impressive guest speakers each year – an example being former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee on the eve of his announcing a 2008 presidential run.
This year’s speaker, making one of his few appearances in erstwhile home-town Memphis since serving a stormy second term as Tennessee governor which ended in 2003, was the self-same Don Sundquist, now a resident, with wife Martha, of a hilltop manse in Townsend, a Smoky Mountain hamlet in East Tennessee.
After several terms as a back-bench Republican congressman representing the 7th District, Sundquist was elected governor in 1994, defeating Phil Bredesen, then Nashville's mayor. Toward the end of his gubernatorial tenure, Sundquist had plumbed the depths of unpopularity with his fellow Republicans, on account of his attempts to resolve a state financial crisis by sponsoring several failed attempts at a state income tax.
Joining the chorus of heckling from the right, ironically, was Democrat Bredesen. Indeed, a political scientist from Mars, familiar with American political parties only as defined in a textbook, would have assumed that Sundquist, who, besides sponsoring tax reform, labored hard to sustain the state's TennCare medical system at peak levels, was the Democrat, while Bredesen, who would succeed Sundquist and pride himself on budget-squeezing, was the Republican.
A formal address to the county’s annual Lincoln Day banquet in 2000 was especially painful for then governor Sundquist , who talked to a hostile dead silence and received only perfunctory applause from the filled ballroom upon concluding. Thereafter, in and out of office, Sundquist was not to be found at a Lincoln Day affair in Memphis.
That was then, this is now. At a testimonial dinner for nonagenarian GOP eminence Lewis Donelson in Memphis last year, Sundquist dropped in and was received warmly. That was just a warm-up. Something resembling hosannas greeted his delivery of a keynote address to this week's Master Meal audience. He receivied standing ovations at the beginning and end of his speech, a standard piece of GOP election-year boilerplate, and was applauded loudly and often in between.
Near the end, seemingly on the edge of tearing up, a happy Sundquist said, “Thank you for inviting me back home!” and got an especially big hand.
Time does indeed heal all wounds.