Longtime colleague looks back on John Wilder's life

By Kontji Anthony - bio | email

MEMPHIS, TN (WMC-TV) - Sunday, the state of Tennessee will bid farewell to the country's longest sitting lieutenant governor, John Wilder.

Saturday, former Shelby County Mayor Jim Rout recalled a message left by former Tennessee Lieutenant Governor John Wilder the Wednesday before Christmas.

"'Nothing, except to say have a blessed day, but to keep the Christ in Christmas.'  I did call him back obviously and thank him and talk with him and little did I know that in four days time he would be in the hospital," Rout said.

Rout described Wilder as a deep thinker.

"Grounded faith-wise, he was grounded politically, he was grounded business-wise and intelligence-wise, and that's very unusual," he said.

Rout has a framed picture of Wilder on his wall from 1978, the year their friendship began.

"What a great guy," he said.

Rout recalled his friend's political savvy, such as when Wilder's party backed another lawmaker for lieutenant governor in the mid-80s. Wilder, surprisingly, formed a non-partisan coalition to win the vote.

"And then made some of those very people, the Republicans and the Democrats, because he ran as a Democrat, the chairmen of various committees, so that allowed him to serve on another good many years," Rout said.

Rout said Wilder's actions during the civil rights movement showed he wasn't a fair weather friend.

"He continued to work with his employees who were black," Rout said. "He continued to loan them money.  He continued to help them buy groceries and clothes for their kids and he did it very openly."

Wilder told Rout once why he never ran for governor.

"She really wasn't in favor of alcoholic beverages in the home, and he knew that in the governor's residence they had parties and things and they had to do that, so he would settle because of Marcell for Lieutenant Governor," he said.

And the love Wilder had for his wife, Marcell, ran deep.

"He was anxious to see his baby, as he called his wife of many years, Marcell, so those of us who are believers believe that he is in a better place," Rout said.

Visitation for Wilder is Sunday from 11:30 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. at Peebles West Chapel on Highway 64 in Oakland, Tennessee.  The funeral follows at 2:00 p.m.

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