Centennial Alumni

Winfield Dunn

Former Tennessee Governor

UT Health Science Center, ’55

Winfield Dunn
Photo by Adam Brimer / University of Tennessee

In his 2007 book, From A Standing Start: My Tennessee Political Odyssey, former Tennessee Gov. Winfield acknowledges the question he most often hears: “How in the world did a dentist from Memphis ever get to be the governor of our state?”

Generally, Dunn writes, “I mention that I was born and brought up in a family environment where politics, political persons, and interest in government were matters frequently discussed.”

His election in 1970 brought not only a dentist who had never held office but also the first Republican to the Tennessee governor’s office in 50 years.

Dunn was born in Meridian, Mississippi, the son of a district attorney who served one term in Congress. In 1950, he graduated—with a pre-law degree in banking and finance—from the University of Mississippi, where he also met his wife, the former Betty Prichard.

But his father-in-law was a Memphis dentist and, soon, so was Dunn. He graduated from the UT College of Dentistry in 1955. Politics remained a fascination.

“What characterized my experience as governor, since I wasn’t steeped in any political tradition, was that I came in without any biases, other than a little political partisanship,” Dunn says. “I had only one thing in mind, and that was doing the best I could.”

In 1977, the UT College of Dentistry named a new teaching facility the Dunn Dental Building. Thirty years later, Dunn signed on as honorary chairman for a capital campaign to restore the building.

By June 2010, the campaign had raised more than $16 million in three years toward its $15 million goal. Dunn, in a brief return to politics, is considered instrumental in a $1 million commitment from the state.

He told a legislative committee, “With all due respect to the lawyers, the accountants, the engineers, the business people, what could possibly be more important, in terms of education, than preparing the people who are going to treat our children and our grandchildren?’”