By John J. Duncan Jr.
A couple of weeks before the 2000 election, I got word that George W. Bush had made a schedule change and was coming to South Knoxville Elementary School for a 3 p.m. rally the same day as the Duncan Family Barbecue.
I was pleased because I hoped then Governor Bush could stop by our big barbecue event. I was told I would have to call someone named Karl Rove, who I had never heard of at that point.
Mr. Rove was very nice but told me Gov. Bush had to speak at a dinner for his brother in south Florida that same night and there was no way they could do the school event, and get to the Florida dinner in time.
When I told him our barbecues usually drew 8,000 to 10,000 people, however, Mr. Rove said, “Let me see what I can do.”
He called back the day before the barbecue, and he said they were going to come, but the Secret Service did not have enough time to do a full security check, and if anything came out in the media, they would not allow him to come.
I doubted we could keep his appearance secret for 30 hours, but somehow, we did, and Gov. Bush walked out with the U.T. Pep Band, gave a very enthusiastic speech, and loved the whole event.
When I walked him back to his limousine in the bowels of the Coliseum, I said “Governor, you are going to carry Tennessee.” He replied, “If I do, I’ll win the election.”
A few days before he was sworn in that next Jan. 20th, I got a call that because he was so grateful to Tennessee, President Bush wanted to make his first trip out of the White House to a school in my district where most of the kids were on the school lunch program.
Because he had won Blount County by such a large margin, and because the Rockford School was so close to the airport, I thought that would be the best choice.
However, much to my amazement, the principal there did not want the president to come to his school.
Until that point, I had thought that any principal, regardless of their politics, would want a president from either party to come to his or her school.
However, we then contacted the principal at Townsend Elementary, and no one could have been more excited or helpful than he was.
Townsend had never had a president of the United States come there before, and the entire community, the students, and the president made it into a very special day.
And, as icing on the cake, the president saw about 200 students from Heritage High School standing by the highway to see him traveling back to the airport, and he had the entire motorcade stop so he could get out and shake hands and talk to the students.
They were thrilled, and I am sure it was something they will never forget.
Thinking back about the Duncan Family Barbecue, one year while President Bush was in office, I was at the White House Summer Picnic.
The president was talking to me and four or five other members of Congress. At one point, he laughed and said “When Jimmy has a picnic, he just has about 10,000 people there.”
He obviously was referring to the barbecue that he had come to, and he laughed as he said it.
I knew that the other members who were there had no idea what he was talking about, but when the president laughs, everybody laughs.
One other memory I have about a White House picnic, either that one or another one, President Bush said “Hey Dunc, I saw you on the television last night.” Then he added, “at the baseball game.”
This surprised me, but about once or twice a season, I went to a Washington Nationals game. The night before, I had a better seat than usual, right by third base on the second or third row.
President Bush was a big baseball fan and had surprisingly picked me out of the crowd. It is unusual for a president to tell you he saw you on television.