Paying Tribute

Floor Speech

Date: Nov. 15, 2018
Location: Washington, DC


Mr. DUNCAN of Tennessee. Mr. Speaker, as I near the end of my 30 years in the Congress, it is only natural to reminisce just a bit.

During my first term in the House, a roving photographer for Roll Call stopped me to ask a sort of humorous question. He asked: If there was a statue of you in the Capitol, where would it be and what would it say? I said: It would probably be in the basement, and it would say: Lucky to be here.

I have always felt very lucky to have this job, and everyone on both sides of the aisle have been very kind to me. But I want to pay tribute this morning to the three people most responsible for me being here.

A friend of mine in Knoxville told me a few years ago that I won the lottery with parents. I had never thought of it in that way, but it is true. My grandparents in Scott County, Tennessee, were wonderful people, but they had no money, 10 kids, an outhouse, subsistence farm-- pure Appalachia.

My dad hitchhiked into Knoxville with $5 in his pocket to go to the University of Tennessee and worked his way through. Twenty years after coming to Knoxville, he was elected mayor and led the peaceful integration of our city. He got about 95 percent of the African American vote in three nonpartisan races for mayor.

He then preceded me in Congress, serving 23\1/2\ years and becoming the ranking Republican on the Ways and Means Committee. A former Democratic congressman from Pennsylvania told me one time: Your dad was the only man I knew who never had an enemy in this town.

I once described my father as the kindest, sweetest, toughest, hardest working man I ever knew, and I meant tough in a good way. I got a really nice handwritten letter from Peyton Manning about that article. He said he had flown out of Knoxville the day it was in the paper and that he could tell from that article that I had the same kind of relationship with my dad that he has with his.

My mother was 2 years older than my father and, after college in Iowa, came to Knoxville to visit an older sister who had married an engineering graduate from the University of Iowa and who had gotten a job at TVA. Her sister talked her into staying, and she met my dad at a YWCA dance.

Dad told one of his brothers that night that he had met the woman he was going to marry, and 3 months later, in Iowa City, Iowa, they were married, in May of 1942. The odds against a farm boy from Tennessee meeting and marrying a girl from Iowa City must have been billions to one, but theirs was truly a marriage made in heaven.

No one ever loved me as much as my mother did, and several times I have told women from the Midwest that I have a very high opinion of women from that part of the country because I thought my mother was the sweetest woman in the world.

My wife, Lynn, was a waitress in Knoxville's finest restaurant when I met her. She later said she married me even though I gave her the lowest tips of any of her regular customers.

Lynn has been my strongest supporter and biggest critic, my number one adviser. I honestly believe, if she had been elected to Congress instead of me, she would have gone much further than I have. She is certainly the speaker of our house and the love of my life for more than 40 years.

During my 30 years in Congress, I was in Washington a lot and gone a lot, even when I was home. She had to raise four children, and all four have made us both very proud. During much of that time, she worked at full- time jobs, worked in all of my campaigns, and took care of most things at home. It certainly was not easy.

Once President Trump, when he was running, told her: Your husband sounds just like me. Lynn told him: Yes, I know--great for the country but hell to live with.

I could not have had a better wife and certainly could not have stayed in Congress for 30 years if she had not done all she has done for me and our children.

She gave me four children and nine grandchildren, all now living in Knoxville. What a blessing. Our daughter, Tara, has been for several years the head of the Knox County probation office. She has two children. Whitney has three daughters and is a leader in all the activities of the Christian Academy of Knoxville.

Our son, John, was elected as trustee for Knox County, receiving the highest vote total of anyone on the ballot that year, including me. He did a great job, serving 3 years, and then took over running my campaigns in 2014 and 2016 and representing me all over the district. He also is a successful realtor. Our son, Zane, worked for several years as a railroad executive and now serves on the Tennessee Parole Board. The boys both have two children, and the nine grandchildren range in age from 3 to 15.

I told my youngest granddaughter, Emma, who is 7 years old, at my younger son's wedding party: One of the happiest days of my life will be when I get to come to your wedding. She looked at me like I had said something really silly. She said: Oh, Papa, you couldn't do that. You would be dead.

But I am not dead yet, and I am going home mainly to spend more time with those nine grandchildren.

Lou Gehrig, the great baseball player, once said he was the luckiest man in the world, even though he knew he was dying with ALS. I am much luckier and very, very thankful.