By John J. Duncan Jr.

Everything looks easy from a distance

My friend, Ray Hill, who writes a great political history column for this newspaper, told me several years ago that I won the lottery with my parents.

I had never thought of it in that way, but I really liked what he said, and I believe it is true.

A long time ago, as a student at Holston High School, my English class was assigned to write a theme entitled “My Greatest Asset.” I wrote that mine was my family.

When my friend, Steve Hunley, asked me to write a weekly column for The Focus, he wanted me to entitle it “Washington Report” like my newsletter that I sent to all my constituents during my 30 years in Congress.

However, since I am no longer in Washington, I wanted to write many things in addition to occasional columns on national issues.

Also, because my Dad once told me that everything looks easy from a distance, and I think this is especially true about sports and politics, I wanted to call my column “From A Distance.”

And I wanted this first column to be about my Father because he had such great influence on me and because most people of voting age today either know very little about his life and career or were not even alive when he died 32 years ago.

Eight years ago, the News Sentinel had a nice article about me and my Dad. I described him as “the kindest, sweetest, toughest, hardest-working man” I ever knew.

I got the nicest, handwritten note from Peyton Manning about that article.

He said he had flown out of Knoxville that day, had read the article, wanted to thank me for my service, and my comments made him think of the relationship he had with his Dad.

Daddy grew up on a subsistence farm in Scott County. My grandparents were good people who had 10 children, little money, no car, never went on a vacation, and an outhouse was the toilet.

Daddy hitchhiked into Knoxville in 1939 with $5.00 in his pocket and worked his way through UT. He married my mother in 1942 and spent four years in the Army during World War II.

After he got out, he wanted to go to law school, but he already had my mother and older sister to support and UT did not have summer law classes.

So he went to Cumberland Law School in Lebanon where I was born in 1947. At Cumberland, a student could go year around and finish in two years.

He returned to Knoxville, started a private practice, and one week out of each three was a part-time assistant attorney general for nine years. He became the city law director in 1956 and served until Mayor Jack Dance died in January of 1959.

Daddy won three landslide elections as mayor: a special election in May of 1959; the election for a full four-year term in November of 1959; and another four-year term in 1963.

The almost six years he served as mayor were probably the most progressive in the city’s history, doubling the city in size through annexation, building the Civic Coliseum, Market Square Mall, many new fire stations and recreation centers, legalizing liquor, and leading the peaceful integration of Knoxville.

Knoxville won the national Look Magazine’s All American City Award midway through his years as mayor.

He then served 23.5 years in Congress beginning in 1965. His service there would take another column, but I will close with one Washington story.

I met a retired Democratic Congressman from Pennsylvania named Fred Rooney during my first year in Congress. When he found out who I was, he said “Your Dad was the only man I ever knew who never had an enemy in this town.”