Wednesday will mark the 40th anniversary of a remarkable vote in the Tennessee House of Representatives that helped to shape the entire Northeast Tennessee region as we know it today.
On March 12, 1974, then-House Speaker Ned Ray McWherter cast the deciding vote to overturn then Republican Gov. Winfield Dunn’s veto of legislation to establish a medical school at East Tennessee State University.
It was certainly a crucial vote for this part of the state and for McWherter’s political career. Our area gained a medical school and McWherter (a Democrat) would later be elected governor — thanks in part to the support of local Republicans who remembered his vote.
A few years before his death, McWherter recalled being threatened by the mayor of Memphis, who was a product of the old Boss Crump political machine. The mayor told him his political career would be over if he voted for the ETSU college of medicine.
As things turned out, the mayor of Memphis ended his days selling farm machinery in Arkansas while McWherter would be elected to two terms as governor of Tennessee.
It might not have happened that way had McWherter not voted to override Dunn’s veto in 1974. That was just one of the remarkable things that happened in 1974.
I remember my own trepidation as a 10-year-old huddled in the hallway with my classmates at Union Elementary School in Vale, N.C. It was April 3, 1974 — the stormy day of the “super outbreak” that spawned more than 147 killing tornadoes in 12 states.
I also have memories of coming home from school that spring and being upset to see reruns of “Star Trek” pre-empted by live TV coverage of something involving something called Watergate. And I recall watching Richard Nixon tell a nationwide TV audience later that same year he was resigning as president.
Although a momentous TV event, it didn’t impress me as much as the debut of “Happy Days” would a few weeks later. (Or the 1974 series premiere of “The Six Million Dollar Man,” for that matter.)
It was truly an eclectic year for the arts and culture. “The Streak,” by Ray Stevens; “Seasons In The Sun,” by Terry Jacks and “The Way We Were,” by Barbara Streisand were at the top of the pop charts in 1974. “The Godfather, Part II,” “Blazing Saddles” and “Chinatown were among the top-grossing movies of the year. (They also were among the movies my parents wouldn’t allow me to see in 1974.)
Here in Johnson City, 1974 was when WETS-FM began its proud broadcasting history.
It was also the year the Freedom Hall Civic Center opened its doors. A friend of mine recalls Bob Hope was the center’s first headliner on July 4.
Finally, 1974 was also a pretty good year for an Olympian long distance runner and then famed member of the “Irish Brigade” at ETSU. That was when Neil Cusack won the 78th Boston Marathon.
What do you remember about 1974? I’d love to hear your stories. You can share them with me at the email listed below, or by snail mail at P.O. Box 1717, Johnson City, TN 37605-1717.
Robert Houk is Opinion page editor for the Johnson City Press. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.