Former U.S. congressman recounts growing up in governor’s residence, life in the military, his political career and much more in new book
Former U.S. congressman recounts growing up in governor’s residence, life in
the military, his political career and much more in new book
By Tyrone Tony Reed Jr.
Former U.S. Democratic congressman and retired Tennessee Army National Guard colonel Bob
Clement smiled as he finished his breakfast inside the Old Country Store last Wednesday
morning. He was touring around Jackson, Tenn., talking about his new book, “Presidents, Kings,
& Convicts: My Journey from the Tennessee Governor’s Residence to the Halls of Congress”
last week, recounting growing up in the Tennessee’s governor’s residence, his life in the military
and his political career.
Clement, who is the president of Clement & Associates, senior counselor of The Livingston
Group and board member of the U.S. Former Members of Congress, said it took him, along with
Dava Guerin and Pete Weichlein, two years to write his first book.
“I dropped everything, worked day and night.” Clement said. “I just didn’t think I had the
discipline and focus to write a book. But, I’m proud of myself. I did it.”
Clement says his book begins when his father, Frank, at the age of 32, was elected as the 41 st
governor of Tennessee in 1952. Clement, who was nine, said his parents wanted him and his
siblings to live as normal a life as possible. So, with the help of Tennessee State University,
Clement began raising and taking care of animals.
“I had 150 chickens, 50 turkeys, two goats, (which were) my former transportation around the
governor’s residence on 12 acres, two horses and one sorry monkey,” Clement said. “My
monkey was my worst pet.”
Clement’s book also delves into his changes in careers and holding many public positions over
the years. Among the positions he held were that of the public service commissioner, being on
the Tennessee Valley Authority’s Board of Directors (which he was appointed to at the time by
then-President Jimmy Carter), serving as the college president of Cumberland University and
serving 15 years as U.S. Democratic congressman for the state of Tennessee.
“I tease with people that I’ve had a hard time holding a job,” he said.
Fixing Congress, fixing America, deadlocks, gridlocks, the lack of compromise between parties
and how to solve those problems are also discussed in Clement’s book. He said America is a
great country, but the current political climate is destructive and counter-productive.
“It’s horrible the way it is now,” Clement said. “I do blame a lot of the members for the
environment we have today. I remember when I was there, not that many years ago, we worked
from Monday to Friday. Now they fly in on Tuesday and leave on Thursday. If I don’t know you
and you don’t know me, how the heck are we gonna solve problems?”
Clement added, “We’ve lost a lot of institutional knowledge and I think we’ve lost a lot of what I
call political courage, looking at the next election rather than the next generation, which I think is
a major tragedy as well. We’ve somehow, some way, got to get a limit on campaign spending,
give the average person out here, (who’s) smart, wants to serve, wants to be involved in public
service, give them an opportunity to run and win. Some of these people are buying these
elections, not earning elections. That bothers me greatly.”
Clement said his father played a huge part in shaping his political ideology and moral compass.
He said he was exposed to the different events, people and politics, playing out locally,
nationally and across the world, which helped him become the man he is today. He’s met every
president from Truman to Obama, met royal families and spoken and taken pictures with famous
men and women like Dolly Parton, Elvis Presley, Johnny and June Cash and evangelist Billy
“You’d think I lived a sheltered life, but I did not,” he said. “I met people from all walks of life. I
grew up with convicts, prisoners, the highway patrol and for a long time, I didn’t know which
group I liked the best. The prisoners would play basketball and football with me. The highway
patrol had a job to do.”
Clement said his father believed in rehabilitation and giving people a second chance. His father
also believed in doing the right thing, especially when going against other Southern governors by
vetoing a segregation bill and upholding integration of schools after the U.S. Supreme Court
declared state segregation laws unconstitutional in the landmark decision Brown v. Board of
Education in 1954. His father also stationed National Guard troops in Clinton, Tenn. to stop any
anti-integration protestors from harming the first black students attending Clinton High School.
“That was a tough issue, really difficult and very hard for (my father) during that time,” Clement
Throughout his book, Clement shares memories of his life, like the time his father accidently
drenched President John F. Kennedy in cold water, the shock of hearing about the assassination
of both Kennedy and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and the heart-breaking news he received about
his father’s fatal car crash on Nov. 4, 1969, just days after Clement told his father, “I never want
to talk to you again.” Clement wrote in his book that those words, his last eight words to his
father, haunt him to this day.
Clement said he hopes people who read his book will learn about the importance of caring for
others and that public service is an honorable profession.
“My aunt Anne Belle Clement O’Brien was in public office as well and she described politics
better than just about anyone I know of,” he said. “She said, ‘Politics builds roads. Politics builds
schools. Politics helps cripple children walk. Politics is compromise.’ I think that’s a beautiful
way to say it. Don’t just put that negative connotation on politics and public service because
there are a lot of honorable people in public office that are trying to make a difference. But, it is
difficult these days because everyone thinks, ‘Well, everyone in politics is crooked. Everyone is
out for themselves.’ And there are some like that, unfortunately. In politics and public service,
when they do something wrong, it’s (on) the front page of the newspaper…that impacts people’s
feelings and attitudes towards public service.”
Clement encourages people, especially young people, from all walks of life and professions, to
not shy away from politics and to believe that they can make a difference.
“There are a lot of hurdles, I realize, to overcome,” Clement said. “But, whether it’s joining a
civic club, getting involved in your community, being a volunteer, reaching out to others to show
some compassion and unselfishness... there are a lot of ways to get involved and we need people
in public office, whether they are a farmer, an electrician, a plumber, lawyer or whatever. We
don’t just want the lawyers to hold all the positions.”
Clement’s book, “Presidents, Kings, & Convicts” is available now at bookstores and online. For
more information, visit www.presidentskingsconvicts.com.