Skip to comments.Who is Fred Thompson? Career in limelight
Posted on 08/19/2007 5:28:12 PM PDT by SmithL
Fred Dalton Thompson, who is expected to announce in early September he is a candidate for president of the United States, was already a family man when he arrived in Memphis in 1962.
That may explain why his listing in the Memphis State University yearbook, class of 1964, offers no clubs, no sports, no "most likely to succeed." Thompson's mention, slotted between Raymond Lyle Thomas and Martha Ann Thompson, gives his hometown of Memphis and simply states he graduated from the College of Arts and Sciences.
"He had to work hard and I don't guess he socialized much," said Jan Clifton, 65, who lived next door to the Thompsons on Evergreen Street in Lawrenceburg. "Without any family over there (in Memphis), they had their hands full."
Thompson was born in Sheffield, Ala., in 1942 but his family moved over the state line to Lawrenceburg soon after his birth.
According to a sampling of his Memphis State classmates, Thompson was too busy raising a family and selling shoes and men's suits at the old Lowenstein's department store to make much of an impression.
"Like trains passing in the night," is how classmate Richard Mashburn puts it.
Thompson made more of a name for himself, to put it decorously, in high school.
Barely a month after turning 17, Fred Thompson hastily married his 18-year-old beauty-queen sweetheart Sarah Lindsey, then went on to finish his senior year at Lawrenceburg High while working at a factory that made church pews. The days of seeing how many kids they could stuff in a car to go to the drive-in and campfires out at David Crockett State Park were over. A baby boy, Fred Jr., known as Tony, was born seven months later.
Garner Ezell, 74, coached Thompson in football at Lawrenceburg, where the lumbering 6-5 tackle was in the habit of asking team trainers to fetch him soft drinks from the nearby grocery store during practices. Ezell attended the same Church of Christ Thompson's family did.
"Fred has always been a smart person," Ezell recalled. "Sometimes he didn't use his ability, but thank goodness he started. I think he'll make an outstanding president."
Thompson and his wife started college at what is now the University of North Alabama, in Florence. He was on an athletic scholarship but injured a knee. Their second child, daughter Betsy, was born during this period.
James "Chunky" Moore, 65, runs the men's clothing store in Lawrenceburg and was in Thompson's 1960 high school graduating class. Moore stayed at then-Florence State College -- whose most famous graduate may be George "Goober" Lindsey of the "Andy Griffith Show" -- when Thompson and his wife moved to Memphis. When Thompson came back to Lawrenceburg as a lawyer, he'd buy his suits at Moore's.
"He was a 46 or a 48, extra long," Moore recalled.
After Memphis State, Thompson had a choice between scholarships at Vanderbilt and Tulane for law school. He chose Vanderbilt, where a third child, Daniel, was born in his first year. After graduating from law school in 1967, he returned to Lawrenceburg and went into practice with his wife's uncle.
One day in 1969, arriving late to a Lawrence County Republican Party function, he stood in the back of the packed room with Tom Crews, now 71 and a retired English and history teacher. Thompson asked whether Lawrence County had a Young Republicans Club. He and Crews were appointed to start one.
It wasn't long before Richard Nixon's Justice Department offered him a job as an assistant U.S. attorney in Nashville. Memphis lawyer Lewis Donelson met him during that period and remains a close friend and advisor.
"With Fred, what you see is what you get," Donelson said recently. "He's very much himself. He knows what he believes in. He's straightforward and ... he'll be a good communicator."
Donelson said, too, that Thompson is a man "who has his own ideas" and convictions and won't necessarily toe the party line. He proved that when he backed John McCain -- not the highly favored George W. Bush -- in 2000, making him appear to be "a little bit of a maverick" among GOP partisans.
In 1970, Thompson was active in Bill Brock's successful campaign against incumbent U.S. Sen. Albert Gore Sr. Two years later, he had an even higher profile position in Sen. Howard Baker's re-election effort. (Years later, the Baker and Donelson law firms merged.)
Baker was the ranking Republican member of the Senate Watergate Committee the following year and offered the trusted Thompson the post of chief counsel to the panel's Republicans. The hearings, beginning in May 1973, were televised nationally that summer, and Thompson, with his Southern drawl, become famous in the sensitive role of investigating his own party's president. It was Thompson's July questioning of witness Alexander Butterfield, a top Nixon aide, that revealed the existence of the secret White House tapes that would lead to Nixon's downfall.
After the hearings and Nixon's resignation, Thompson became a lawyer-lobbyist in Washington and Nashville, with clients such as the International Brotherhood of Teamsters Central States Pension Fund and major Fortune 500 companies. He successfully lobbied for Westinghouse for spending on an experimental nuclear reactor on the Clinch River that cost the public more than $1 billion before it was mothballed in 1983.
And he wrote a memoir of his Watergate work, "At That Point In Time," which came out in 1975.
A star is born
In 1977, a fired Tennessee state employee who had been working undercover with the FBI in an investigation of the illegal sale of state inmate pardons under the administration of then-Gov. Ray Blanton needed a good Republican lawyer to sue the state to get her job back.
Marie Ragghianti, who had been chairman of the parole board, hired Thompson and eventually won her case. Blanton went to prison. The story of her battle with Blanton became a popular book, "Marie: A True Story," by Peter Maas, and an even more popular 1985 movie, "Marie," in which Ragghianti was played by Sissy Spacek. Thompson got his first movie role in "Marie," playing himself.
Ragghianti, a lifelong Democrat, has endorsed Thompson for president.
Thompson and his first wife divorced the same year "Marie," the movie, came out and Thompson became a fixture in Washington power circles. He made several more movies, in important but nonleading roles: "No Way Out" in 1987, with Kevin Costner; "Days of Thunder" in 1990, with Tom Cruise; "The Hunt for Red October," also in 1990, with Sean Connery and Alec Baldwin; and "In the Line of Fire," in 1993, with Clint Eastwood and Renee Russo; and "Baby's Day Out" in 1994.
In the age of YouTube, some of his out-of-context character-acting vitriol may prove embarrassing, including one starring role as Knox Pooley, a white supremacist, anti-Semitic character on television's "Wise Guys," in 1988.
Man about town
In Washington, Thompson dated a lot and was often seen out on the town, sometimes with country music sensation Lorrie Morgan, whom he dated steadily, and at other times with GOP fund-raiser and socialite Georgette Mosbacher. He reportedly was asked about his romantic dalliances when he met with GOP congressmen at the Republican Club on Capitol Hill in April, and evidently passed muster.
"I was single for a long time and, yep, I chased a lot of women. And a lot of women chased me -- and those that chased me tended to catch me," Thompson told the group, according to published reports.
U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp, R-Tenn., who attended that meeting, told another story about Thompson's personal life. Wamp said Thompson told the assembled Republicans that when his daughter Betsy died in 2002, "the woman who had loved him for a long time -- and he didn't really realize it -- told him, and he realized he was in love with her."
Said Wamp: "It was the sweetest moment of him opening up and being transparent. Anybody who didn't know him before, they know him now in a special way."
That year he married GOP political operative Jeri Kehn, who is 24 years his junior. The couple has a 4-year-old daughter, Hayden, and a 10-month-old son, Samuel.
A political makeover
When Sen. Al Gore Jr. was elected vice president in 1992 -- only two years into his six-year term -- it opened up Gore's Senate seat for a special election in 1994. (Then-Gov. Ned McWherter appointed his top aide, Harlan Mathews, to the seat for the two years until the special election. Mathews did not run to keep the seat.)
Thompson declared his candidacy for the 1994 election. After his campaign sputtered through most of the primary election campaign, he underwent an immediate image makeover. The Washington lawyer-lobbyist with a taste for fine clothes and fine food emerged after the August primary as a pickup-driving, blue jean-wearing man of the people, and won. His Democratic opponent, U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper, made an issue of the changeover, calling him a "Grey Poupon-spreading millionaire ... special-interest lobbyist."
But 1994 proved to be a huge Republican year, both nationally and in Tennessee. All three of the state's top elected officials -- governor and both U.S. Senate seats -- were held by Democrats prior to the election but were seized by the GOP. And Thompson won by the largest margin of the three, defeating Cooper 60 percent to 39 percent.
In the Senate, Thompson concentrated on investigations as chairman of the Senate Government Operations Committee. He has been chided by the Democratic National Committee for a thin legislative record but he has countered that he helped prevent a lot of bad laws from being passed.
Thompson ran again in 1996 and handily beat J. Houston Gordon, the Covington lawyer who once represented Lt. William Calley in the wake of the Mei Lei Massacre in Vietnam. Like the 1994 race, Thompson avoided the hot-button social issues but, when pressed, appeared to be moderate in his views. For example, he said he would not support laws that would outlaw early-term abortions. Yet in the Senate, he received a 100 percent rating from National Right to Life.
He took some maverick stands in the Senate, favoring limits on campaign cash that became the McCain-Feingold reforms, and investigating both parties' fund-raising operations, running afoul of the GOP leadership.
After telling supporters in the days after of 9/11 that he would seek another term in 2002 because "now is not the time for me to leave," he abruptly announced he would not run six months later. Thompson often expressed frustration with the slow pace of the Senate, and he said he was deeply affected by Betsy's death.
Law &Order man
After leaving office, Thompson took on a role he may be best known for -- Dist. Atty. Arthur Branch on the long-running television show "Law & Order." Thompson has played the brusque, liberal and pragmatic DA in the various permutations of the program: "SVU," "Criminal Intent" and "Trial by Jury."
He has voiced one president -- Andrew Jackson in "Rachel and Andrew Jackson: A Love Story" -- and played another -- President Ulysses S. Grant in "Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee." In all, according to the entertainment-industry Web site imdb.com, Thompson has credits for characters in 39 movies or TV programs, plus nine other credits for playing himself.
Lobbying for dollars
In addition to his renewed acting career, Thompson returned to lobbying. Among his more lucrative clients was the British reinsurance company Equitas, which was seeking to limit its liability under a proposed settlement of asbestos litigation and trying to kill legislation that would have opened the company to significant exposure. Thompson successfully lobbied then-Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, also first elected to the Senate from Tennessee in 1994.
Before his Senate career, Thompson was one of many lobbyists who lobbied for de-regulating the savings and loan industry, which later helped spark that industry's meltdown and a public bailout. He had also worked for the leftist Catholic priest and Haitian President Jean Bertrand Aristide, who was widely criticized for his endorsement of gruesome execution practices.
In addition to his lobbying, Thompson helped shepherd the nomination of Chief Justice John Roberts and helped operate the I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby defense fund. When President Bush commuted Libby's prison sentence, Thompson applauded the action.
Both of Thompson's sons also are lobbyists.
Despite several serious runs by Tennesseans for the presidency over the last half-century, it has been 138 years since a Tennessean held the White House. It's been even longer -- since the presidency of Andrew Jackson, one of a trio of Nashville real-estate speculators who founded Memphis -- that a contender with genuine Memphis roots has sought the nation's highest office.
In that effort, Thompson has surrounded himself with top-of-the-line talent in both fund-raising and public relations. His official spokesman, Mark Corallo, a former Republican National Committee opposition research director, was former U.S. Atty. Gen. John Ashcroft's chief spokesman.
The noncampaign has already undergone a major shakeup, and there's speculation that Karl Rove, President Bush's chief political advisor, who last week announced his resignation, may be heading for the Thompson camp.
Those who have known him longest say Thompson's people skills -- an ability to talk equally effectively with urbane millionaires and down-home country folk -- are his best assets.
"He doesn't need to be president for Fred's sake," said former neighbor Clifton. "He thinks he can help this country. ... When he speaks, he's going to have something to say."
Washington correspondent Bartholomew Sullivan can be reached at (202) 408-2726. Nashville bureau chief Richard Locker contributed.
Fred Dalton Thompson
Born: Aug. 19, 1942, in Sheffield, Ala. Family soon moved to Lawrenceburg, Tenn.
Education: Memphis State University, B.A., 1964; Vanderbilt University Law School, J.D., 1967
Religion: Church of Christ
Wife: Jeri Kehn Thompson
Children: Fred Jr., Daniel, Hayden and Samuel. Betsy died in 2002.
U.S. Senate: 1994-2003
Lawyer-lobbyist: 1975-1993, 2003-present
First movie actor role: 1985
Mighty good rundown, overall...
Thank you, Senator Clinton.
I was going to say: In before the gratuitous “jerk” post, but too late.
Ping The Fred-Heads!!!!
Fred will slay the Hildabeast.
IBTZ...Here, Kitty Kitty Kitty..
A very pleasant read.
I would expect Bartholomew Sullivan to write a hit piece on Thompson. I think the Memphis Commercial realizes that it is not going to improve its circulation by hit and runs on Fred Thompson.
WARNING: If you want to join, be aware that this ping list is EXTREMELY active.
Hmmmm. A one word opus?
So, if you’re serious, let’s see your pedigree. What are your accomplishments?
Me thinks thou art thy loser.
All of 3 months on FR, eh?
Aren’t you special...
The gnasty gnats are certainly losing their gnat-minds more frequently these days.
And here I thought school had already started...
I haven't seen many of the Law and Order shows in which he's appeared, but of the ones I've seen, his character hasn't seemed particularly liberal. In fact, in one of them, he said he was pro-life.
We need to petition Jim for an ignore button. I would become a monthly contributor for that. :)
He's a "Jacksonian". No doubt in my mind.
His reason was like lightning and his action like a thunderbolt" Amos Kendall,.
Prominent Jacksonians: Ronald Reagan, Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter, Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney, Fred Thompson, Oliver North, Pat Buchanan, Zell Miller
We can't even excerpt from the Tennessean, but here' s a link:
See, we agree again...
And miss all the love, never...
The Indian Removal act of 1830
Jackson was responsible for the notorious Indian Removal Act of 1830, and thus the Trail of Tears, in unconstitutional defiance of a Supreme Court ruling. In 1829, American demand for land due to population growth and the discovery of gold on Cherokee land led to pressure on Native American lands. In 1830, Congress passed the Indian Removal Act which, Jackson signed into law. The act was challenged successfully by the Cherokee Nation in 1832 in the US Supreme Court as Worcester v. Georgia, in 1832. Despite the Supreme Court decision, Jackson took no action to uphold the Court verdict, and in fact would openly defy it; he was quoted as saying "John Marshall has made his decision, now let him enforce it!". As the court has no executive powers to enforce its decisions, Jackson's executive disregard of the court, marked a time when the Judicial branch of government was very weak. The state of Georgia held two land lotteries in 1835 to divide the Cherokee land, and Jackson sent military support to oust the Native population. This led to what is now known as the "Trail of Tears", which killed roughly four thousand Cherokee (25%), en route to Oklahoma.
The Battle of the Horseshoe and Jackson's subsequent betrayal
General and U.S. president ANDREW JACKSON. After ordering the removal of the Cherokee nation from the southeastern United States, the Supreme Court told him he had overstepped his authority and that their removal would be illegal. Jackson demanded that the Supreme Court show him its army, commenced with the removal, and forced the Cherokee onto what became known as the Trail of Tears. Adding insult to injury, Jackson ignored the fact that his life had been saved in 1814 by the leader of his Cherokee allies, Junuluska (Tsunu-lahun-ski), at Horse Shoe Bend, Alabama, when a Creek warrior tried to run Jackson through with a bayonet. In gratitude, then-General Jackson swore an oath of everlasting friendship with the chief. Junuluska later said about Jackson's refusal to stop the Cherokee Removal, "If I had known he would break his oath, I would have killed him that day at the Horse Shoe."
During the Creek wars of 1812-1814 Gulkalaski took 500 of his Cherokee scouts to help General Andrew Jackson win the Battle of Horse Shoe Bend. Gulkalaski had sworn to his people that they would exterminate the Creeks. General Andrew Jackson was directing the frontal attack of a Creek fortification that had been built within the projection of land created by a bend in the Tallapoosa River in eastern Alabama. Major Ridge, with his Lieutenant, John Ross, were directing the Cherokee attack on the rear of the fortification but were faced with crossing the river itself. Gulkalaski and two other warriors swam the Tallapoosa River in the dark and took the Creek warriors' canoes in spite of gunfire from the Creek Indians which wounded one of the three Cherokee, an Indian named Whale. This action gave Jackson the upper hand in what had been a situation stacked against him. In the ensuing battle Gulkalaski drove his tomahawk through the skull of a Creek warrior when the Creek had General Jackson at his mercy.
In the 1830's, when President Andrew Jackson was directing the forced removal of the Cherokee from their native lands Chief John Ross failed to get an audience to plead their cause. Chief Ross asked Chief Tsunulahunski to make an attempt. President Jackson granted Tsunulahunski an audience and heard his plea but curtly said, "Sir, your audience is ended. There is nothing I can do for you." The doom of the Cherokee was sealed. Washington, D.C. had decreed that they must be driven West. At the forced removal, witnessing the scene before him, and with tears gushing down his cheeks Chief Tsunulahunski lifted his face toward the heavens and said, "Oh my God, if I had known at the battle of the Horse Shoe what I know now, American history would have been differently written."
Is fred even running? why is he afraid to announce? What is he hiding? Thats what the Donks will ask.
It appears by your presence that they already are.
If you would have asked that in the first place instead of calling him a loser, you might have been treated a bit more nicely.
Yes he was a democrat. What's your point?
The Indians had to be fought and defeated. It was our "Manifest Destiny" to settle the west.
I suspect you are transferring modern day PC to the early 19th century. He probably owned a slave or two.
If he's not a man of honor why does he appear on our $20 Dollar Bill?
His reason was like lightning and his action like a thunderbolt" Amos Kendall,.
Prominent Jacksonians: Ronald Reagan, Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter, Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney, Fred Thompson, Oliver North, Pat Buchanan, Zell Miller
Fred Thompson for president bump!
I am not transferring modern day PC to anything as there is nothing PC about me and likely there never will be. I have no idea about his duels or anything else, but I stand by my analysis, and rightly so. I am not sure what "Indians had to be fought and defeated. It was our Manifest Destiny to settle the West", means or has anything to do with what I posted. If you read my post you would know it had nothing to do with "settling the West". This had nothing to do with the West unless you are referring to the Cherokee being moved West, force marched to Oklahoma in the dead of winter. This was called the Trail of Tears: [http://ngeorgia.com/history/nghisttt.html]
A Cherokee boy was thought to have found a gold nugget and that was the catalyst for this dark stain on American history. The Cherokee lawyers won their appeal to the Supreme Court, Jackson defied the order of the Supreme Court and in violation of the Constitution had them removed.
Jackson knew these people were not savages and that they were doing nothing other than living their lives on their land. Chief John Ross was a millionaire and quite a few that died on the trail, a 1000 mile forced march were Cherokee Baptist and Methodist ministers. The Cherokee had helped Jackson before and Chief Junaluska saved his life, but later regretted it when he realized Jackson was a man without honor and his word nor his oath meant anything. It wasn't our Manifest Destiny to settle anything. Forcibly removing Christian pastors and ministers, a people whose National Anthem is "Amazing Grace" from Northern Georgia, 1000 miles, 25% of them dying along the way is not something that was granted by God. It was not God, but greed. Why Jackson is on the $20 bill, I haven't a clue. It makes sense that a man of avarice and without honor would have his portrait on money though, if you think about it. I would change it tomorrow if it were in my power to do so. Perhaps replace him with Henry Clay or Davey Crockett, men with honor, who opposed Jackson and his dishonorable policies. How about Sequoyah, John Ross, Junaluska. This has nothing to do with PC and everything to do with the truth. My words stand and it makes my heart sick that anyone could hold this man out as a hero.
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