Lamar Alexander donates pre-Senate papers to Vanderbilt Libraries

August 22, 2011

Media contact: Ann Marie Deer Owens, 615-322-NEWS

Lamar Alexander donates pre-Senate papers to Vanderbilt

Exhibit featuring early swearing-in as governor to open in renovated library

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, whose leadership roles have included Tennessee governor, U.S. secretary of education, university president and presidential candidate, and his wife, Honey Alexander, have donated their pre-Senate papers to Vanderbilt University Library’s Special Collections.

“Lamar Alexander’s remarkable career will clearly be seen in the lens of history as one of the most important to Tennessee and the nation in recent times,” Chancellor Nicholas S. Zeppos said. “Vanderbilt is honored to serve as home to these archives of one of our most accomplished graduates.”

Alexander majored in Latin American Studies at Vanderbilt, where he was student newspaper editor, a Phi Beta Kappa graduate and helped to set a school track record.

A  yearlong exhibit of the collection, which opens September 17 in Vanderbilt’s newly renovated Central Library, features Alexander‘s swearing-in as governor three days early at the urging of a U.S. attorney who said the incumbent governor was about to release prisoners in exchange for cash.

Only Alexander’s family and a small number of his staff members and Tennessee political reporters attended the event in the Tennessee Supreme Court on January 17, 1979, as it was kept under wraps for several hours. Rare video, transcripts and correspondence surrounding the early swearing-in are included in the collection.

The exhibit also will portray Alexander’s 1000-mile walk across Tennessee to become governor and the arrival during his two terms in office of Japanese manufacturing, the auto industry, innovations in education and Tennessee Homecoming ’86, as well as his piano performances with Tennessee symphonies and on the Grand Ole Opry.

“Honey and I felt that the archives should reflect the voices of the countless Tennesseans who have worked with us to raise educational standards, attract industry and build confidence among the state’s residents,” Alexander said. “To support this, Vanderbilt’s libraries have already begun an oral history project recording the stories of those who played major roles.”

The prized papers of Alexander through his two terms as governor contain correspondence, video, photographs, manuscripts and memorabilia that begin when he was in high school and elected president of Tennessee Boys State. Campaign scrapbooks, examples of Alexander’s signature red and black plaid shirt and the trombone that he played nights at a Bourbon Street club while clerking for Fifth Circuit Judge John Minor Wisdom are among the items in the collection. His governor’s papers and records of his two campaigns for president are also included. The approximately 600 cubic feet of material date from 1955 to 2002.

“Sen. Alexander’s unique set of experiences as governor, U.S. secretary of education, university president and presidential candidate comprise an archive that will be a national treasure mined by scholars for generations,” Connie Vinita Dowell, dean of libraries, said. This is clearly one of Vanderbilt’s most important collections.”

The exhibit “Come on along: Lamar Alexander’s Journey as Governor,” which runs from Sept. 17, 2011, to Aug. 12, 2012, will be displayed in museum-quality gallery spaces with six interactive touch screens that were part of a $6 million recent renovation of Vanderbilt’s Central Library and Special Collections.

The exhibition begins with material from 1974, a year when the Watergate scandal was still casting a shadow over the Republican Party and Alexander lost his first race as the GOP nominee for governor.

Four years later Alexander ran a non-traditional campaign that featured the candidate’s six-month walk across the state and many more grassroots activities to put him in direct contact with voters.

Alexander would try to shake a thousand hands a day and spend each night in homes with families in an effort to meet people he did not already know. Included in the collection are photos of Tennesseans that he became friends with and still remembers to this day.

This was also one of the most turbulent eras in Tennessee politics as the Blanton administration was under federal investigation for selling pardons to prisoners. Alexander won the election and was sworn into office three days ahead of schedule at the request of then-U.S. Attorney Hal Hardin.

The collection and exhibition will also feature rich material from his two terms as governor, including papers from groundbreaking initiatives in education and economic development. “Scholars and other interested individuals can gain insight into how elected officials identify and prioritize state needs and what life was like inside the governor’s office,” Dowell said.

Other highlights are the papers of Honey Alexander and correspondence with Alexander’s close friend, author Alex Haley. Haley and Minnie Pearl were co-chairs of Homecoming ’86, a statewide celebration that provided Tennesseans an opportunity to rediscover their past and identify the uniqueness of their communities.

In addition, photographs of prominent Nashville musicians who were friends with Alexander, including Minnie Pearl, Chet Atkins, Crystal Gayle, Jerry Reed and Roy Acuff, as well as treasured photos of the young Alexander family growing up at the governor’s residence, will be displayed.

In private life he and Mrs. Alexander helped found what has become the nation’s largest provider of worksite day care. He is the author of seven books including Six Months Off, which is about his family’s life in Australia after he was governor.

Alexander is the only Tennessean to be popularly elected both governor and senator.  He is a former chairman of the nation’s governors and has been chairman of the Senate Republican Conference since 2007. He is expected to seek re-election to the Senate in 2014.

The library exhibit will be displayed during Alexander’s 50th Vanderbilt class reunion.

Alexander is also a graduate of New York University Law School, where he was a Root-Tilden scholar and a law review editor. Honey Buhler graduated from Smith College in 1967. That summer she met Lamar Alexander at a staff softball game in Washington, D.C. where she was working for Sen. John G. Tower and he was working for Sen. Howard Baker. They were married in 1969 in her hometown of Victoria, Texas, and have four children and four grandchildren. The Alexanders live near his hometown of Maryville but also have a home in Nashville.

Alexander was re-elected to his second six-year Senate term in 2008.

The date when the Alexander Papers will be available to researchers will be announced later.

For more information, contact Celia Walker, director of special projects, at 615-343-4701 or


Share This Story

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *