John S. Wilder

UT Martin,* ’41


Part of the Tennessee Alumnus’ 100 Distinguished Alumni feature.

John S. Wilder served as Tennessee’s 48th lieutenant governor, a seat he held for 36 years (1971-2007). When his tenure ended in 2007, he was the longest-serving presiding officer of a legislative chamber in modern U.S. history, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

A Democrat from Fayette County, Wilder was a banker, farmer, businessman, cotton-ginner, lawmaker and pilot. He served under six state governors during 18 consecutive terms and oversaw the building project that created the first official home of the Tennessee legislature.

“Ultimately, he became so much a part of the landscape that people didn’t see him. But a closer look will find John Wilder’s fingerprints on every good and progressive event of the last 50 years,” says Jim Kyle, former Democratic leader of the state Senate, in a 2010 article.

Wilder was involved in numerous landmark decisions throughout his time in office, including the Meth-Free Tennessee Act of 2005, which provided greater resources to law enforcement fighting the deadly drug and put vital meth ingredients behind pharmacy counters.

Wilder died Jan. 1, 2010, at the age of 88.

“He’ll go down in the history books as one of those people that helped make Tennessee a better place to live,” says Wilder’s successor, Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey.

* UT Martin was known as UT Junior College in 1941.