By John J. Duncan Jr.
In my Focus column of May 9, I wrote about the wide variety of jobs I had, both full and part-time, while I was a student at Holston, U.T. and George Washington University.
I think every job, even when I was a bat-boy for the Knoxville Smokies, helped me relate better to people from all walks of life. This became even more true during my 16 years as a lawyer and judge.
Then, because I loved and respected my father so much, I guess both consciously and subconsciously, I wanted to be as much like him as possible.
Thus, it was a dream come true for me when I was elected to succeed him as Congressman for the Second District of Tennessee.
This was not a dream that developed in me early in life. In fact, my first visit to Washington was on the safety patrol trip at the end of my sixth-grade year at Chilhowee School in East Knoxville.
If someone had told me then that I would end up back in Washington someday, I would have thought they had lost their mind.
People say politics can get in your blood, and the dream or desire to someday serve in Congress developed very slowly in me.
I saw how kind Daddy was to everyone, even those on the other side of the political fence. I heard several hundred tell him he was the only Republican they ever voted for.
I saw how hard he tried to help people, in big and little ways, but always in ways important to them, and how often he succeeded in helping them.
Daddy grew up as one of ten children on a subsistence farm in Scott County. He hitchhiked into Knoxville with $5.00 in his pocket to attend U.T. Twenty years later, he was elected as Mayor and six years after that to Congress.
I don’t believe any son could be more proud of his dad than I was of mine.
There is a disease in politics that affects many people who are elected to office. They almost immediately start wanting the next higher office.
This seemed to me to be especially true of the ambitious men and women elected to the U.S. House. They were thrilled to be there at first, but almost all really wanted to be Senator or Governor.
Our friend, Sen. Howard Baker, tried at different times to get both my father and me to run for the Senate. Both of us got much encouragement from many others to run for Governor and Senator.
But both my father and I were very grateful for the privilege of serving as the Congressman from this District.
I never served under the famous Speaker Tip O’Neill, but my dad did. I once told Speaker O’Neill a story that he included in his book All Politics Is Local. He started that story by saying “Jimmy Duncan is a good man even if he is a Republican.”
But he wrote an inscription which said, “Jim, your dad was one great guy. Hope you are half the man.”
As a young lawyer, Daddy headed a group that bought the baseball team in Montgomery and brought minor league baseball back to Knoxville. He became president of that team.
In 1959, Johnny Pesky, the Boston Red Sox great, was the Smokies manager. I was the unpaid batboy.
I have an unusual color photo on my credenza of Johnny Pesky standing at the Pesky Pole in Fenway Park.
He signed that photo; “To Jimmy, my old batboy at Knoxville – My Best – Your Pal, Johnny Pesky.”
At the bottom, he wrote: “I loved your dad, Jim. One Great Guy!!”