Winfield Dunn

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Bryant Winfield Culberson Dunn

In office
January 16, 1971 – January 18, 1975
Preceded by Buford Ellington
Succeeded by Ray Blanton

Born July 1, 1927
Meridian, Mississippi
Political party Republican
Spouse(s) Betty Prichard Dunn
Children Charles "Chuck" Dunn

Gayle and Julie Dunn (current names not available)

Alma mater University of Mississippi at Oxford
(Bachelor of Business Administration)
University of Tennessee Health Science Center
in Memphis (DDS)
Occupation Dentist; businessman
Religion United Methodist

Military Service
Service/branch United States Navy

United States Air Force Reserve

Years of service 1944–1946
Battles/wars World War II

Bryant Winfield Culberson Dunn, known as Winfield Dunn (born July 1, 1927), is a former dentist and businessman who served as only the second Republican Governor of his adopted state of Tennessee from 1971 to 1975.


Dunn was born in Meridian in Lauderdale County in eastern Mississippi, the son of an attorney and one-term Democratic U.S. Representative Aubert Culberson Dunn (1896-1987) and the former Dorothy Don Crum (1904-1973)[1] During World War II, Dunn he enlisted in 1944 in the United States Navy and served as a pharmacists' mate in the Pacific Theater of Operations. Subsequently, he was a reserve lieutenant in the United States Air Force.[2]

In 1950, Dunn graduated with a Bachelor of Business Administration degree from the University of Mississippi at Oxford. That same year, he married Betty Prichard, the daughter of a Memphis dentist. After working in the insurance industry for several years, he obtained his Doctor of Dental Surgery in 1955 from the University of Tennessee Medical Units in Memphis. He first practiced with his father-in-law prior to establishing his own practice in Memphis.[2]

Political life

The previous Republican governor, Alfred Alexander "Alf" Taylor (1848-1931), a native of Carter County in northeastern Tennessee, served a two-year term from 1921 to 1923 after his election in the Warren G. Harding national landslide of 1920. After Taylor, the gubernatorial terms were doubled to four years.[2]

Seeking a comeback, Dunn ran as the Republican nominee in 1986, a heavily Democratic year nationally, and lost to Ned Ray McWherter (1930-2011). For years after leaving office, he remained active in the Republican Party.[3]

Inspired by Barry Goldwater's The Conscience of a Conservative, Dunn ran unsuccessfully for state representative in 1962. As the chairman of the Shelby County Republican Party, he campaigned for the Arizona Senator in the 1964 presidential contest against Lyndon B. Johnson, who won the Tennessee electoral votes. Dunn was a delegate to the 1968 Republican National Convention and supported eventual nominee Richard Nixon, who carried Tennessee three times.[3]

As Governor

In 1970, Dunn sought the Republican nomination for governor. His opponents for the nomination included state House Speaker and later U.S. Representative William Lewis Jenkins (born 1936), industrialist Walton Maxey Jarman (1904-1980) of Nashville, the Knoxville attorney and the former chair of the state party Claude K. Robertson (born 1932; deceased), and the 1962 gubernatorial nominee, Hubert David Patty (1927-2002). Boosted in part by a large turnout in his populous home county of Shelby, Dunn won the nomination, having led his nearest opponent, Jarman, by ten thousand votes.[2] In the general election, he defeated the Democrat John Jay Hooker, Jr. (1930-2016), a Nashville attorney.

Even before Dunn's election, the Tennessee GOP had flexed its muscle in 1966, when Howard Baker, the son-in-law of Senate Republican Leader Everett Dirksen, ran for the U.S. Senate against Governor Frank Goad Clement (1920-1969). In 1968, Nixon carried the state over Hubert Humphrey and George Wallace, Republicans won control of the state House of Representatives, and Republican Dan Heflin Kuykendall (1924-2008) was elected to the Memphis-based 9th congressional district seat, the first Republican to hold the post since 1872.[2] With future federal judge Harry Walker Wellford (1924-2021) and future Governor and U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander steering his campaign, Dunn defeated Hooker, 557,024 votes to 498,757.[2][4]

Upon taking office, Dunn sought to unify the state, and offered state appointments to both Republicans and Democrats. the Democrats, in control of both state legislative houses, were initially uncooperative, with House Speaker James R. McKinney and Lieutenant Governor John Shelton Wilder (1921-2010), tried to thwart his legislative agenda.[5] In 1972, Ned McWherter was elected House speaker, and proved more open to cooperation with the Republican governor. Coincidentally, fourteen years later McWherter defeated Dunn's comeback attempt for governor.[2]

Under Dunn, the state increased the sales tax by 0.6 percent, which provided funds for more highway construction and to permit pay raises to state employees. He also created the Department of Economic and Community Development and the Department of General Services, since the Department of Personnel in an attempt to enhance efficiency in the hiring of state workers.[3] Dunn supported the state's ratification of the Twenty-Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution, which in 1971 lowered the national voting age to eighteen.[6]

In November 1973, Dunn hosted the Republican Governors Conference in Memphis, where President Nixon sought to reassure the governors present that the Watergate scandal would not hurt the party in the 1974 mid-term elections. In his 2007 book, From a Standing Start, Dunn recalled his "shock" and "disappointment" when the next evening the 18-and-half minute gap in the Nixon White House tapes was revealed.[4]

Later years

After Dunn's term ended, he became the vice president of public relations for the Hospital Corporation of America, based in Nasvhille. In 1986, Dunn once again ran for governor. He easily defeated Hubert Patty , who had also run unsuccessfully against Dunn in 1970, and Charles Vick in the Republican primary, but questions over party unity dogged his campaign.[2]

During his first term, Dunn had vetoed a bill calling for the establishment of a medical school at East Tennessee State University in Johnson City. In his veto explanation, Dunn said that the state's three existing medical schools were adequate. The legislature overrode his veto, but Republican U.S. Representative James Henry "Jimmy" Quillen (1916-2003), in whose district the medical school was established, withheld his endorsement of Dunn in 1986. Without Quillen's backing, Dunn struggled in East Tennessee, a Republican stronghold, and was defeated in the general election by the Democrat Ned McWherter, 656,602 votes to 553,448.[2]

After the 1986 campaign, Dunn worked as chairman of Medshares in Memphis and was active in the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway Development Authority,. The waterway operates in four states.[2] as well as with the American Cancer Society and the United Way of America.[3]

In 1988, Dunn, still active in his party's moderate wing, chaired the state steering committee of the successful presidential campaign of George Herbert Walker Bush in 1988,[3] and was an elector for George W. Bush in 2004 and John Sidney McCain, III, in 2008. As early as December 2011, Dunn endorsed the eventual 2012 Republican presidential nominee, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, now a U.S. Senator from Utah who was defeated by Barack Hussein Obama's bid for a second term. Romney praised Dunn: "No one is more highly regarded for his love of country and his public service."[7]


  1. Dorothy Don Dunn (Crum) (1904 - 1973) - Genealogy (, accessed September 20, 2021.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 2.6 2.7 2.8 2.9 Phillip Langsdon, Tennessee: A Political History (Franklin, Tennessee: Hillsboro Press, 2000), pp. 370-381, 396-397.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 Michael Rogers (2009). Winfield Dunn. Tennessee Encyclopedia of History and Culture. Retrieved on September 20, 2021.
  4. 4.0 4.1 Bill Dries, "Dunn's Book Details GOP Comeback in Tennessee," Memphis Daily News, accessed December 30, 2012.
  5. Rodney Stanley and P. Edward French, "John Wilder: The Longest Tenured State Legislator in Tennessee History (University Press of America, 2007), p. 105.
  6. Margaret Phillips, The Governors of Tennessee, (Gretna, Louisiana: Pelican Publishing Company, 2001), pp. 170-175.
  7. Crossroads puts $1.2 million behind 4 new ads—Sununu will be Romney's top Gingrich attack dog— Paul fires back at RJC—First look at Huntsman's Restoring Trust speech - POLITICO, accessed September 20, 2021.