YAM Notes: March/April 2021

By Marty Snapp

Happy belated birthday to Victor Ashe, who turned 76 on New Year’s Day, and therein lies quite a tale.

After graduating from Yale, Victor returned to his hometown, Knoxville, Tennessee, where he was elected in 1968 to the first of three terms in the state House of Representatives. In 1974 he decided to move up to the State Senate, but he was sued by one of his rivals, who claimed he didn’t meet the minimum age requirement of 30.

The hitch was that Victor would turn 30 on January 1, 1975, nine days the swearing-in date, but he would still be only 29 on election day, November 7, 1974. The case went all the way up to the state Supreme Court, which ruled against him ordered his name removed from the ballot.

Victor wasn’t going to walk off the field without a fight, and his mother, Martha Ashe, agreed.

“It’s not your fault!” she said. “Your father and I are responsible for the date of your birthday. If we had known about this, we would have gotten it started earlier!” (“This was the most risqué thing I ever heard my mother say,” Victor comments.)

“Well, Mom,” he said, “why don’t you run in my place?”

So she did, pledging to serve until he turned 30 and was eligible to serve in his own right. “I’m only running to do what any mother would do if her son got in trouble that wasn’t his fault,” she told audiences. Her campaign slogan, which appeared on all her bumper stickers and billboards, was “Vote for Martha to elect Victor.”

She won in a landslide. On January 10, 1975 Martha Ashe was duly sworn in as the first woman in Knox County and the first Republican woman in the state to serve in the Tennessee Senate. Her maiden speech was also her farewell address, in which she introduced a Constitutional amendment to lower the minimum age in the state Senate to 25. (Alas, it failed to pass, and the minimum is still 30 to this day.)

Then she promptly resigned. Victor was elected by the Knox County Commission to be her successor and serve until the next election in 1976, which he won.

He served until 1984, when he ran for the U.S. Senate but lost to some guy from Harvard named Al Gore. Then he returned to Knoxville and served 16 years as mayor, the longest tenure in the city’s history. And that was the end of his political career – or so he thought, until George W. Bush ’68 nominated him to be ambassador to Poland, where he served for the next five years, first under Bush and then under Barack Obama.

Now he’s embarked on what may be his last hurrah: a petition campaign for the Yale Corporation, which will be decided in May. It just goes to show that behind every great man stands a great woman – especially if she’s his mother.

In other political news, congratulations to Andy Beveridge, one of the unsung heroes behind Raphael Warnock’s and John Ossoff’s Senate-flipping victories in the Georgia runoff election. The Board of Elections and Voter Registration of Cobb County, whose population is 48 percent minority voters, was planning to close more than half its voting sites for the runoff. But it was forced to cancel the idea by a lawsuit filed by the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and the ACLU of Georgia, which used sophisticated data analysis tools developed by Social Explorer, which Andy co-founded at Queens College, to demonstrate how drastically the plan would reduce access to the polls by the county’s Black and Latinx residents.

Speaking of heroes, Mike Kail’s book, Heroes with Humble Beginnings, about the challenging early years of some of America’s greatest ballplayers, movie stars and Presidents, has garnered a rave review from a fine writer in his own right, Barry Golson.

“You told their stories in plain, lucid prose, great eye for detail, and didn’t go for sensationalism, though there was plenty of eye-opening stuff,” he wrote Mike. “Most of all, I was impressed by your integrity. You said what you were going to do – show underdogs overcoming hardscrabble lives – and then followed through, thoroughly, without stinting, telling everyone’s story from start to finish. I know about research, and you did a lot of it and could have abbreviated, taken short cuts. I’m not sure I would have had the stick-to-it-tiveness. But by the time I got to your lists and stats at the end, I thought, ‘Holy cow, Kail, I never expected this!’

“It’s sort of like what they say about conscience: what you do when nobody’s looking. You didn’t have to be so thorough; you just were.”

Dave Wilson reports, “After far too many years, I finally connected with my roommate Henry Bean in a noodle restaurant in Santa Monica near the end of January 2020. We are both blessed with good health, and I expect to see more of him. My wife and I are in our second summer as Campground Hosts for the U.S. Forest Service at McBride Springs on Mt Shasta. Great volunteer job in the outdoors, June-September. Home is still St Louis…Finally, have you had the unhappy experience of finding out that somebody has hacked your Facebook account and is posing as you? Chuck Lidz has, so he’s posting this disclaimer: “Apparently someone else is going around pretending to be Chuck Lidz. I can’t imagine why anyone would want to do that. I think if I were pretending to be someone, I would pick someone who would be more fun to be. I have enough trouble being the real Chuck Lidz.”