Harlan Mathews, an accidental Tennessean born in Sumiton, AL, who advised five Tennessee Governors and served in the U. S. Senate, died today at the age of 87, his family confirmed.
Mathews, who recently was diagnosed with a brain tumor, died peacefully at Alive Hospice today at 6 a.m. with his wife, Pat, at his side.
After serving in the U.S. Navy in WWII, Mathews received his B.A. degree from Jacksonville State University under the G.I. Bill. He arrived in Nashville in 1949 to attend Vanderbilt University. He would subsequently obtain a master's degree in Public Administration. Shortly after enrolling at Vanderbilt, Mathews took an entry level job with the State Planning Office, not knowing that serving the people of Tennessee would become his life's work.
In 1950, the 24 year-old Mathews met 30 year-old Frank Clement. Two years later, Mathews was the top assistant to the new Governor, a close friendship that continued until Clement's death in 1969. In 1961 Mathews was appointed Commissioner of Finance by Governor Buford Ellington. He held the post for 10 years, one of the longest tenures in state history.
In 1971, Mathews briefly left state government to work in the private sector in Memphis, but returned in 1973 to serve as the legislative assistant to longtime state comptroller, William Snodgrass. The Tennessee General Assembly elected Mathews state treasurer in 1974 when his predecessor, Tom Wiseman, opted to run for governor.
Mathews remained state treasurer until January 1987, when he resigned to become deputy governor to Ned McWherter.
As deputy governor, Mathews was a low-key yet forceful advocate of McWherter's legislative agenda and continued, as he had done as state treasurer and finance and administration commissioner, to protect the state's sound financial footing.
Upon U.S. Senator Al Gore's election to the vice presidency, McWherter appointed the most dedicated public servant he knew to fill the vacancy. Harlan Mathews was sworn in on January 3, 1993, to represent Tennessee in the U.S. Senate.
Mathews never sought election to political office, preferring to serve the people of this state behind the scenes as a frugal manager and mentor to dozens over the four decades of his public career.
Upon leaving the U.S. Senate in December of 1994, Mathews joined the Nashville office of the law firm of Farris, Mathews, Bobango PLC. He remained active in the legislature and politics, serving as an informal adviser and fundraiser for Gov. Phil Bredesen.
Throughout Mathews's career, he never took for granted the people he served and the responsibility he held. He was known as a soft spoken but tough negotiator who made sure state employees were paid good wages, and that the state's retirement system was sound, the debt low and the bond rating strong. He was a demanding boss who also made sure that his employees had a warm coat in cold weather. He was a leader, a statesman and a friend to all that knew him and to all of Tennessee.
Mathews is survived by his wife Pat, sons Stan Mathews (Sandy) and Les Mathews (Pam) and granddaughters Katie Zipper and Emily Mathews.
He was preceded in death by his son Rick Mathews.
Honorary Pallbearers include Steve Adams, Tom Benson, Carl Brown, Tom Cone, Nancy-Ann DeParle, John Faber, Jim Hall, Don Holt, Carl Johnson, Dr. Joe Johnson, Jeremy Kane, David Lillard, J.W. Luna, David Manning, Raymond Marston, Mike McWherter, Clayton McWhorter, John Morgan, William Nichols, Roy Nix, Parker Sherrill, Arnold Tackett, Bo Roberts, Pete Sain, Dale Sims, Captain Bobby Trotter, David Welles, Bill Whitson, and "Harlan's Girls" - Estie Harris, Adrienne Knestrick, Katy Varney and Beth Winstead.
The family would like to give special thanks to his caring doctors -- Dr. Craig Weirum, Dr. Chris Hill, Dr. Rentz Dunn, Dr. John Thompson and Dr. Robert Faber.
The visitation will be from 1:30 p.m. - 2:30 p.m. on Monday at Harpeth Hills Funeral Home.
A Life Celebration Service will be at 3 p.m. on Monday, May 12, 2014 at Harpeth Hills Funeral Home.
Interment will be private.
In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations to Nashville School of Law and Alive Hospice.
Harpeth Hills Funeral Home, 9090 Hwy 100, Nashville; (615) 646-9292. www.harpethhills.com
Harpeth Hills Funeral Home
9090 Highway 100 Nashville, TN 37221
Published in The Tennessean on May 10, 2014