Former President Jimmy Carter attends an event held in honor of Tennessee Speaker of the House Ned Ray McWherter, Dec. 4, 1982. Tennessee Speaker of the House Ned Ray McWherler was honored with an appreciation dinner Dec. 4, 1982 on the UTM campus. Visiting dignitaries included former president Jimmy Carter, Governor Lamar Alexander and Senator Jim Sasser.

President Jimmy Carter Visits UT Martin

By Nathan Morgan

AMID A LIGHT RAIN and the chilly December air of 1982, the tranquil campus of the University of Tennessee at Martin was abuzz with excitement and anticipation. Dignitaries and esteemed guests from near and far were set to gather for a momentous occasion—the presence of none other than former President Jimmy Carter himself. The purpose of his visit: To grace a grand dinner held in honor of Tennessee Speaker of the House Ned Ray McWherter as part of “Ned WcWherter Day” in Weakley County.

Carter’s arrival would signify an unprecedented moment in Weakley County’s history, as it would be the first time a president or former president ever set foot in the area. The attendees keenly recognized the magnitude of this occasion, and President Carter’s presence bestowed an aura of prestige and historical importance upon the university grounds. The former commander-in-chief, known for his earnest dedication to public service and his steadfast commitment to humanitarian causes, was a beacon of inspiration for the nation. His presence at the university was a testament to the impact of McWherter’s leadership and the respect he commanded in the political arena. Carter said that night that of all the world leaders and governmental officials he has come in contact with, “Ned McWherter stands head and shoulders above many I have met.”

According to former UT Martin Chancellor Charles Smith, “Many viewed (this event) as a preview of what inevitably would be a campaign for governor for Ned McWherter.”

The evening began with a special reception in the Skyhawk Fieldhouse (then Lady Pacer Fieldhouse), where Carter, McWherter and others delivered brief remarks. A barrage of camera flashes from the crowd ushered them as they moved to the university center for dinner, where an overflow crowd awaited. The star-studded assemblage of everybody who was anybody was a clear signal that the crowd was in the presence of a future governor.

Distinguished faculty, students and notable figures from across Tennessee gathered to pay tribute to Speaker McWherter’s unparalleled contributions to Weakley County and the state.

“I remember that McWherter was uncharacteristically nervous about the event,” said Smith. “He was never comfortable being the star of any show. At the event, he gave me the only directive he ever gave me during my six years as chancellor. Before the event, he put his arm around me and said gently: ‘Chancellor, everybody knows who Jimmy is, so make the introduction short.’ Obviously, I did.”

Other speakers that evening included Gov. Lamar Alexander, Senator Jim Sasser, Congressman Ed Jones, Senator Wendell Ford of Kentucky, Lieutenant Governor John Wilder, John Seigenthaler from the Tennessean, U.S. representative and later vice president of the United States Al Gore and county music superstar Charlie Daniels.

The evening commenced with a stirring address from President Carter. He shared anecdotes from his own political journey and spoke of the significance of leadership rooted in integrity and compassion. During his speech, which was sprinkled with lighthearted quips about his longtime relationship with McWherter, Carter was dead serious when he told the audience, “It’s not his honor that I’m here. It’s my honor to be here.”

Throughout the evening, the camaraderie between President Carter and Speaker McWherter was evident—a testament to the bond shared by two individuals dedicated to the betterment of their communities. Amid the laughter and heartfelt exchanges, history seemed to unfold before the attendees’ eyes, as the evening bore witness to the convergence of visionary leadership and a commitment to public service. The event marked an indelible chapter in UT Martin’s history—a moment when the esteemed institution played host to a gathering of statesmanship and fellowship.

Decades may have passed since that memorable December evening, but the echoes of President Carter’s visit and the celebration of Speaker McWherter’s legacy continue to resonate throughout the university. Their shared commitment to public service serves as a guiding light for future generations, a reminder that leadership, humility and a genuine concern for the welfare of others can bring about lasting and positive change for our society.

“From the Archives” is a feature highlighting unique and interesting items from the Alliene and Jimmie S. Corbitt Special Collections. For more information or to make a donation, contact UT Martin Special Collections and Archives at 731-881-7094 or

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