When Frank Barnett met the queen

Victor Ashe
Government/Politics columnist

Most everyone knows that our current governor, Bill Haslam, lives in West Knoxville on Sherwood Drive. However, very few people know that another governor (now retired) also lives in Knoxville less than a mile from the Haslam home. He is Frank Barnett, 80, former lieutenant governor and then governor of American Samoa (1975 to 1977) who lives on Orleans Drive in the Westlands.

Barnett attended Bearden Elementary School when he grew up on Lonas Drive and graduated from old Knoxville High. He graduated from the University of Tennessee and UT College of Law.

He was in practice with Howard Baker and Robert Worthington in the original Baker law firm.

He worked for Gov. Winfield Dunn as an administrative aide and later served on the state Board of Regents, appointed by Gov. Don Sundquist.

Barnett was appointed to leadership roles in American Samoa by Interior Secretary Rogers Morton, who worked for President Gerald Ford.

American Samoa today has a population of roughly 55,000, according to the 2010 census. It elects its own governors.

Barnett recalls the four-day visit of Queen Elizabeth II to Samoa in February 1977 as the highlight of his tenure. He and his wife, Carolyn, were hosts for the queen and Prince Philip, who arrived on a British Airways flight but departed on the Britannia, the queen’s yacht, which is now decommissioned and berthed near Edinburgh and is open to the public for tours.

The queen also visited Western Samoa, an independent nation. The Barnetts are probably the only residents of Knoxville today who have dined with Queen Elizabeth II on her yacht. Barnett as governor officially welcomed the queen and prince to American Samoa and rode with her from the airport to the Britannia in the harbor of Pago Pago (capital of American Samoa). He describes her today “as extremely gracious and well informed.”

Barnett also attended the National Governors’ Conference and was invited to the White House by President Carter, along with other governors.

■  The Eugenia Williams House on Lyons View Pike continues to occupy top-level UT personnel. Even Deborah DiPietro, wife of the UT president, attended a recent tour.

While UT is finally moving to study what the current leadership has inherited, it is unclear to this writer where it is all headed. Meetings will be closed to the public at a time when the university could win points for a more open process.

Butch Peccolo, who chairs the committee, noted the house was vacant for 17 years before UT acquired it by gift. However, he failed to mention that UT let the house remain vacant for another 17 years, allowing further downgrading of the house after accepting it. Prior UT administrations have contributed to the deterioration by neglect and even canceled a fundraising effort to be led by Jim and Natalie Haslam to salvage the house.

Asked if the committee plans to invite comments from the neighborhood and the community in general, UT spokesperson Gina Stafford said “input will not be sought at this point in the initiative.” Somewhat astonishing that the university would not seek input from neighbors and groups like Knox Heritage.

Stafford carefully refers to the “Williams property,” rather than the Williams house. One wonders if there is already an unstated desire to demolish the house with the use of this language. However, anyone wishing to comment on the Williams house and property may write Peccolo at 709 A Andy Holt Tower, Knoxville, TN 37996 or email him at
cpeccolo@tennessee.edu.

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