The real Andy Holt

Betty Bean
Government/Politics columnist

Maybe the early Seventies weren’t the best of times to be a student at the University of Tennessee, but anybody with a functioning brain knew that the rattiest booth at the Roman Room was infinitely preferable to the accommodations at Fort Polk, Louisiana – AKA Fort Puke, next stop Vietnam. Protesters and self-proclaimed freaks faced off against YAFFers (Young Americans for Freedom) and the specter of war shadowed us everywhere.

Nevertheless, lots of students liked Andy Holt, even though many weren’t crazy about some of the UT president’s old-school, paternalistic ways, particularly the time he invited Billy Graham to preach in Neyland Stadium and bring noted theologian Richard Nixon along, too. A World War II veteran born in 1904 (which means he enlisted even though he was well past draft age), he’d lived through two world wars and had a different perspective on life than did most Boomers.

There were things about him that gave conservatives the willies, too. He’d been executive director of the Tennessee Education Association, president of the National Education Association and had chaired the U.S. Delegation to the World Organization of the Teaching Profession in Switzerland.

Think that resume would get anybody appointed UT president nowadays?

Fake Andy Holt  News Sentinel Photo
Fake Andy Holt News Sentinel Photo

The Real Andy Holt advocated ending segregation and defended one of my old history professors who came under fire for his association with the Highlander Center, which also entertained Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks. Later, students walking along Cumberland Avenue waved at him when he’d come chugging by in the orange Volkswagen UT alumni gave him when he retired (his wife got a white Mercedes). Often as not he’d stop and give somebody a lift to class. Storied acts of kindness too habitual to be random circulated widely.

In those days, the president of UT was the most popular person in Knoxville, probably in the state. Imagine that.

So when a West Tennessee pig farmer/state legislator named Andy Holt started stuffing my inbox with self-serving emails, it bothered me some. It bothered me more when state regulators declined to pursue allegations that he’d emptied the contents of his hog dung lagoon onto his neighbors’ property.

Fake Andy Holt’s bill mandating the prosecution of whistleblowers who reported animal cruelty cases bothered me still more, but Bill Haslam afforded me some relief when he killed it off with his veto pen.

Real Andy Holt  Photo courtesy of the University of Tennessee
Real Andy Holt Photo courtesy of the University of Tennessee

More recently, Fake Andy’s been spamming me with pictures of himself setting traffic light citations on fire. I suppose I should be grateful that it’s not Jeremy Durham sending me selfies.

Last week, I attended a tribute to the Real Andy Holt, who nearly three decades after his death is still being remembered for his kindness and willingness to look at all sides of an issue. It got me thinking.

Fake Andy Holt is a graduate of South-Doyle High School and UT-Knoxville. I’m betting that his parents named him after Dr. Andy.

Guess it’s too late to ask them to call him something else.

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