A state welcome center on Exit 46 of Interstate 26 in Unicoi County will officially be named today in memory of former state Rep. Zane Whitson, R-Unicoi. As Press Erwin Bureau Chief Brad Hicks reported this week, a dedication ceremony will begin at 11 a.m. to name the facility for Whitson, who died in March 2009.
We can think of no better name for the welcome center. As a 24-year veteran of the state General Assembly, Whitson scored a number of impressive legislative wins. None of them, however, could surpass the pride he felt 15 years ago when I-26 finally opened to traffic all the way to the North Carolina line. Completion of that highway through some of the most rugged terrain to be found in Tennessee was a testament to the tenacity and political skills of Whitson, who died at the age of 75.
His friends and colleagues remember him as an affable and hardworking public servant who could get along with legislators on both sides of the aisle. Whitson’s bipartisanship was praised at a dedication ceremony for I-26 in 1995 when his work on the project was acknowledged by Democrats and Republicans alike, including former Gov. Ned McWherter (a Democrat who called Whitson “a friend”) and his Republican successor, then-Gov. Don Sundquist.
“Zane was a great friend and was loved by colleagues on both sides of the aisle,” state Sen. Rusty Crowe, R-Johnson City, told the Press earlier this week. “No one was better at the art of politics and law-making than Rep. Zane Whitson. He will be missed by all.”
Whitson was a tireless advocate for Northeast Tennessee. Interstate 26 and the welcome center that now bears his name is a fitting tribute to his distinguished legislative career. As we noted in this space shortly after his death, Whitson proved that a dedicated elected official actually could move mountains.