Lewis Donelson III, titan of Tennessee and Memphis politics, dies at 100

Lewis Donelson III, titan of Tennessee and Memphis politics, dies at 100

January 5th, 2018 by Associated Press in Politics State

Tennessee Gov. Lamar Alexander, left, and Lewis R. Donelson III confer during the Memphis Jobs Conference on Nov. 3, 1981. Ron Terry is in background at left and Michael Rose is at back right. Donelson served as moderator of the four meetings. (Dave Darnell/The Commercial Appeal)

Photo by The Commercial Appeal /Times Free Press.

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — Lewis Randolph Donelson III, who helped shape the modern Republican Party in Tennessee and co-founded Memphis law firm Baker Donelson, died Thursday, according a statement from the firm. He was 100 years old.

The Memphis native started his law career in 1941 and later helped found Baker Donelson, which has grown to include more than 750 attorneys and public policy advisers in 10 states and Washington, D.C.

The Commercial Appeal reports that he helped revive the GOP in Tennessee in the 1950s, was elected as a charter member of the Memphis City Council in 1967 and served under former Tennessee Gov. Lamar Alexander as commissioner of finance and chief operating officer from 1979 to 1981.

In a statement, Alexander called Donelson "one of Tennessee's most accomplished lawyers and finest public servants."

"He was my first appointee when I was elected governor because I knew that if someone of Lewie's stature agreed to be the chief operating officer of state government that would attract other talented cabinet members," said Alexander, who is currently a Republican U.S. senator from Tennessee.

Donelson's son, Lewis Donelson IV, said his father was "an old-school moderate Republican" who was conservative on fiscal issues, progressive on social issues and supported the civil rights movement. He said his father entered public life to help others.

Ben C. Adams Jr., chairman and chief executive officer of Baker Donelson, said Donelson spent his life serving the legal profession and his community.

"In a career that spanned more than 70 years, Lewie's leadership and activism had a lasting and far-reaching impact. While we're extremely saddened by his passing, we're proud to be a part of Lewie's legacy and are committed to carrying on the spirit of dedication and community that he exemplified and that is at the core of the culture and personality of Baker Donelson," Adams said.