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April 18, 2014

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Scrapbook Tempts Republicans To Piece Together History

Sun Photo by Kristen Buckles

Left to right, Louis Ricker, former Greene County Republican Party chairman, and Brett Purgason, current party chairman, listen as Bob Bailey, board president of the Locust Springs Christian Retreat Center, recalls his time working on Tex Ritter’s campaign for the U.S. Senate in 1970.

Originally published: 2013-08-03 00:25:07
Last modified: 2013-08-03 00:27:31
 


BY KRISTEN BUCKLES

STAFF WRITER

A scrapbook teeming with history on two of Tennessee's 1970 political campaigns has piqued the interest of the Greene County Republican Party.

The maker of the scrapbook, however, remains a mystery that the county GOP hopes someone in the community will be able to unlock.

THE SCRAPBOOK

The beginning of the scrapbook is dark, perhaps due to disappointment in failed candidates.

A wood-grain cover opens to a chapter of black pages; the reader is nearly halfway through the book before there is an entry.

From there, the story unfolds in a largely reverse chronological order:

U.S. Rep. Bill Brock will face incumbent U.S. Sen. Al Gore Sr. in the 1970 general election for U.S. Senate.

Actor and country music musician Tex Ritter, who ran against Rep. Brock for the GOP Senate nomination, loses the primary to Brock.

Meanwhile, in the contest for the 1970 Republican nomination for governor, Tennessee Speaker of the House Rep. William Jenkins, of Rogersville, and Knoxville political figure Claude Robertson lose the nomination to former dentist Winfield Dunn, of Memphis.

The scrapbook continues backwards through time, from August to January 1970, with well-preserved newspaper clippings, campaign buttons, speeches and bumper stickers chronicling each development of the fiery primary campaigns for the Senate seat and the governorship.

ABRUPT END

Then, the scrapbook ends abruptly.

Whoever made the book seemed to be pulling for Ritter for the Senate and either Robertson or Jenkins in the gubernatorial primary race.

"It was someone who was really tracking these races," said Alice Loftin, a Greeneville-Greene County Public Library volunteer who came across the scrapbook at the Locust Springs Thrift Store earlier this year.

"Whoever it was was local and got very discouraged when his candidates lost and just stopped -- because [the scrapbook] just stops," Loftin speculated.

"I feel like they were aiming to put all the victory stuff in the front, and then when they lost, it just almost broke their hearts and they just shut the scrapbook and put it away."

The scrapbook stops short of Dunn's historic defeat of Democratic Party nominee John J. Hooker Jr., in which Dunn became Tennessee's first Republican governor in 50 years.

Brock also went on to defeat the popular Gore, who had considered both Brock and Ritter to be of little threat.

These developments were key moments in the Republican Party's history in Tennessee, according to Greene County Chairman Brett Purgason.

LOCAL INTEREST

Purgason and Loftin met former GOP Chairman Louis Ricker and current party co-treasurer Maybrey Gfellers at the library this week to follow up on another key element in the puzzle.

After researching the scrapbook herself, Loftin gave fellow library book sale volunteer Jan Maddox the go-ahead to contact Purgason about the scrapbook and offer it as a gift to the party.

"I went over to look at it, and I realized pretty quickly that it was during a time period when Republicans were gaining control of the state in some respects," Purgason recalled.

"I realized how important it was and the fact that, obviously, Tex Ritter was a candidate. I had no clue [about that].

"I had to pry my hands off of it to keep from reading it all at once. It was definitely an important part of Greene County and the state Republican party's history," Purgason said.

BOB BAILEY CONNECTION

During their searches through the scrapbook, however, he spotted a familiar name: Robert F. Bailey.

Bailey was listed on the Robertson-Bittner campaign committee members list as the Sullivan County campaign chairman.

As it turned out, that was indeed the same man as Greeneville's well known "Bob" Bailey, who is board president of the Locust Springs Christian Retreat Center that runs the thrift store.

"Oh yes, I remember this [campaign]," Bailey said as he flipped through the scrapbook. "This is marvelous. I'm very impressed with it.

"I enjoyed working with Tex Ritter in Sullivan County and Kingsport," he added, recalling Ritter's photographic memory and frantic campaign schedule.

CALL FOR ITEMS

Bailey noted that he has a number of scrapbooks of his own.

Purgason is now accepting donations of such items for a museum exhibit that the party hopes to display locally.

"Hopefully, we're going to display this [scrapbook] in one of the local museums," Purgason said.

"We're also looking for other Greene County Republican history, other campaign articles, buttons, stickers or different paraphernalia from the campaigns from over the years, so that we can document Greene County's Republican heritage."

 
For more information and stories, see The Greeneville Sun.

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