By John J Duncan Jr.
I have been blessed throughout my life to have been surrounded by strong women, and certainly one of the strongest is my wife, Lynn.
No man has ever had a more loyal wife than she has been to me.
This is our 44th year together. When I first met her, she was one of the most popular waitresses at Regas Restaurant, and she was a real knockout.
She was beautiful to me then and is even more beautiful to me today. She always said she married me in spite of the fact that I was her worst tipper.
She supported me in every way. My career became her career, and she became active in every organization I was in.
She is a staunch Republican, but I believe if I had been a Democrat, she would have become a great member of that party because she was and still is so loyal to me.
Lynn is both a politician’s dream and a nightmare. If she is for you, she is really for you, and if she is against you, she is really against you. There is nothing fake or false about Lynn Duncan.
She gave me four of the finest children a man could ever have, two daughters and two sons. This led to nine wonderful grandchildren, and what a blessing it is to have all of them in Knoxville.
Lynn had to do everything with and for the children. She loves our children with fierce devotion, and now the lights of her life are all these grandchildren.
Nothing has ever made her happier than when we have all our crew around. I know where I rank—in last place when her kids and grandchildren are there.
For a few years when the children were small, she stayed home. But then she worked for five years for the Boys and Girls Clubs. She raised so much money for them that the national organization hired her for 2 ½ years until Gov. Don Sundquist appointed her to the Parole Board.
She became the toughest member of the board. Some prisoners did not go through with their hearing when they found out she was the member to hear their case.
She really has a heart of gold, though; she organized several trips to Washington and New York for underprivileged kids who had never been out of Knoxville.
She spent the last nine years before she retired working with her friend, Pete DeBusk, to raise money for LMU.
When it looked at one point in its early years that the LMU Law School might not get the final approval to stay open, Lynn became determined she was not going to let that happen. Working with Brian DeBusk and Dr. James Dawson, she helped save that school. Now its bar passage rates have made it one of the finest law schools in the southeast.
One year, an organization named her the official First Lady of Knoxville. She was in one of the early classes of Leadership Knoxville. A few years ago, she was named Woman of the Year by the Women of Service organization.
She always threw herself into whatever she was doing and was a very active member of Eastminster Presbyterian Church and later Cedar Springs Presbyterian Church. She thought Pastor John Wood was the greatest man she ever knew, but Pete DeBusk and Don Sundquist were close.
She is Phillip Fulmer’s biggest fan and was one year ahead of him at Franklin County High School.
She was the one who made our houses into homes and loved hosting people at various dinners, parties and receptions over the years.
She has a well-deserved reputation as a great cook and was pleased when our friend, Hallerin Hill, called on her when he wanted someone to fix a home-cooked southern meal for Doc Severinsen.
Lynn always has loved playing tricks on me. One morning, I was very busy in my Washington office, she had her secretary call me to say in a crying, panicky voice that Lynn had been taken hostage by a prisoner at Brushy Mountain. I was completely fooled, not yet realizing it was April Fool’s Day.
Another time, she made a charitable contribution and got four men in red coats to come to the Knoxville Airport and sing “Let Me Call You Sweetheart” on Valentine’s Day. My face turned as red as their coats, but all the people waiting on planes seemed to enjoy it.
One time though, I got her. I had done an event for the Knoxville Police Department and then my friend Jack Barnes took Bob Griffitts and me in a police cruiser to Maryville for my next meeting. Lynn was to meet us and go with me. She was running late, and I told Jack when she comes over that hill, turn on the siren and pull her over. When Jack, Bob and I got out of the police car, Lynn really didn’t think that was as funny as we did.
Lynn is an amazing woman. She did all the things at home and with the kids, worked at various jobs, and still went with me to hundreds of events and represented me at hundreds more.
I spoke to many conventions and associations over the years, and we went on many trips around the U.S. and to many foreign countries. Wherever she went, Lynn represented Tennessee and our country well. She could get along with people from all walks of life.
Lynn was raised in Sewanee and still considers herself a small-town girl. She loves our lake house between Rutledge and Bean Station, and enjoys telling people we moved to Mayberry.
When I was a judge, I used to say that I wore the robes in my courtroom, but she wore the robes at home. I also said in a speech that I thought if she had been elected to Congress instead of me, she might have become Speaker of the House.
I was always physically stronger, but she was always mentally stronger and had a determined way that enabled her to succeed far more than she failed.
Lynn was out in the public so much that people were always asking her for help or telling her things to tell me. She was unpaid, but the entire time I was in office the Second District had two members of Congress.
Once, when I was in the hospital, she spoke in my place at the Knox County Lincoln Day Dinner. The next day the News-Sentinel quoted Sen. Howard Baker as saying it was the best speech he ever heard me give.
Once, when Donald Trump told her that I sounded a lot like him, she was a little mad at me, and she told him, “I know, great for the country but hell to live with.” He thought that was one of the funniest things anyone ever said to him.
I once heard a comedian say that as soon as a woman marries a man, she begins a lifelong campaign to change everything about him. There is much about me that Lynn does not like, especially that I spend far too much time reading instead of doing things with her. But even though I have disappointed her in many ways, she has stuck with me through thick and thin, and we love each other very much.
Several times over the years, Lynn has told me, “See you need me.” Several times when our children have teased her about something, she has told them, “You are REALLY going to miss me when I’m gone.” No truer words have ever been spoken, on both counts.
Three years ago, Lynn had a major stroke and went from being one of the most active women I have ever known to being confined to a wheelchair overnight. She used to drive all over kingdom come but now has not driven for three years. Even little things are difficult, and it has been very tough on her, but she has handled it as well as anyone could.
I have loved and been thankful for every job I have ever had, but the greatest privilege of my life has been to take care of her during these last three years, and I hope for many more.
Now, she is facing her toughest battle health-wise, but she is handling it with more courage than I have ever seen in anyone. I do not know what the future holds, and our family and friends are praying that God will grant her another miracle. But one thing I know for sure is that marrying Lynn Duncan is the best thing that ever happened to me!