Harlan Mathews, U.S. senator and longtime state leader, dies at 87

Career in public service capped by replacing Al Gore in 1993

Harlan Mathews, the one-time U.S. Senator who spent much of his life behind the curtain of Tennessee state government, died today. He was 87.

Doctors recently diagnosed Mathews with a brain tumor. He died at Alive Hospice. Funeral services have not yet been finalized. 

Mathews’ political history spanned nearly half a century, winding throughout much of the executive branch of state government before eventually leading him to replace Al Gore as Tennessee’s U.S. Senator in 1993.

Appointed to the post by Gov. Ned McWherter, Mathews served in the Senate for two years. He never sought election to political office.

Mathews’ political career began in the early 1950s. Two years after befriending a 30-year-old Frank Clement, Mathews went from an entry level job with the State Planning Office to one of Gov. Clement’s top assistants.

In 1961, Gov. Buford Ellington appointed Mathews Commissioner of Finance and Administration, a post he held for a decade before leaving state government briefly beginning in 1971 to become senior vice president for Housing B AMCON International in Memphis. 

His absence from state government was short. In 1973, Mathews returned as legislative assistant to state Comptroller William Snodgrass. The General Assembly elected him state treasurer the next year.

In 1987, he became Gov. Ned McWherter’s deputy governor and cabinet secretary, a post he held until McWherter tapped him to replace Gore in 1993. After leaving the Senate, he joined the law firm of Farris, Mathews, Bobango PLC.

In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations be made to the Nashville School of Law and Alive Hospice.