Richard Roberts Stresses His Greene County Roots
By: Tom Yancey/Staff Writer
Source: The Greeneville Sun
With at least 150 friends, family and supporters on hand in front of the Greene County Courthouse, Greeneville attorney Richard Roberts formally announced he is a Republican candidate for Congress.
Friends in the crowd included Bob Kesling, the "Voice of the University of Tennessee Vols," whom Roberts met when they were freshmen at Hess Hall at UT; Bill Snodgrass, who heads the field offices of U.S. Rep. Bill Jenkins, R-1st; and local business leader and philanthropist Scott Niswonger, who was seated in the front with his wife, Nikki, and mother, Sharon.
Jenkins announced in February that he would not seek re-election after 10 years in Congress.
Twenty-one candidates, 13 of them Republicans, are "unofficially" on the Aug. 3 state and federal primary ballot, according to the state election commission's Web site.
Roberts was introduced by lifelong friend Larry Bible, principal of West Greene High School and a former classmate of Roberts at Glenwood Elementary School. With the 25-member WGHS band behind him in snappy new uniforms, Bible said he had known Roberts for 46 years, and called being asked to introduce him "the biggest professional honor I have ever received." Bible said that, after their grade-school days were over, "our paths separated," but Roberts and he remained close friends. Whenever he and Roberts would see each other, Bible said, the conversation would return to family and Glenwood. "Richard Roberts has never forgotten his family, his friends and the roots he grew up with," Bible said, telling the audience that Roberts will not forget them, or this community, if elected.
Roberts Speaks Of Family
Roberts began his remarks by saying "I have often said that the greatest good fortune in my life was not of my own doing." With two rows of relatives surrounding him on the courthouse steps, he continued: "That good fortune was to have been born into a big Greene County family, with parents and grandparents who were teachers and farmers, 12 aunts and uncles and 18 of us first cousins - all growing up together and learning life's lessons from people that had lived them. I was blessed." Roberts noted that his first-grade teacher, Ms. Clayton, also was in the audience. Roberts said he had talked to his former teacher on Saturday, and she promised not to tell how miserable he was on his first day of school.
"My lasting memory of that ill-fated start toward higher learning is the vision of my mother standing at the bend of the road with a baby on her left arm and a switch in her right hand," Roberts said. "I knew then there was no turning back, just like there is no turning back in what we are launching here today." Roberts said that, as he grew, he became a member of Timber Ridge Church and was graduated from Greeneville High School. There, in the ninth-grade, he met his future wife, Imogene. "It took me 30 years to convince her, but I am nothing if not determined, and I am so proud to have her standing here today," he said, as his wife smiled. Roberts noted that he eventually went to college and got a law degree at the University of Tennessee. "But I bet many of you didn't know that before I went to law school, I spent a couple of years in medical school before deciding that was not what I wanted to do," he said. Roberts said he well remembers having to explain that decision to his mother, who died a few years ago.
"I know she loved me, and I believe she eventually understood, but I guess if there is any consolation for her not being here today, it is that she does not now have to worry about me becoming a politician." Roberts noted that he has never run for public office. "But I have helped run a company that has brought several hundred good jobs to this district, and has provided several hundred more jobs at 70 locations in 38 states," he said, adding, "That should count for something."
Although he has never "had that burning desire to climb the political ladder," Roberts said he has had "a burning desire to represent individuals and businesses, as well as good causes," as an attorney, and had a successful career.
Roberts recognized "my friend Scott" Niswonger in the crowd. He said, "It was Scott who I helped when he wanted to create an education and scholarship foundation (the Niswonger Foundation) that has benefited thousands of students from right here in the 1st District, helping many of them go to college when there was no other way that they could.
And we did it without spending one nickel of taxpayer money," he said, as the crowd cheered. Roberts retired in 2002 as general counsel and senior vice president of Forward Air and Landair, the Greeneville based trucking companies. He remains a director of the Niswonger Foundation. The motto of the foundation, he told
the audience, is: "Learn, Earn and Return." Recipients of Niswonger Scholarships pledge to return to their
hometowns to work at some point after completing their educations.
Roberts pointed out that he "learned" important life lessons on a farm in Greene County. It doesn't take very long, he said, hauling hay "on 90-degree days for your daddy and six uncles to learn the value of teamwork, and the value of hard work," drawing laughter from the audience. "You just can't get an education like that in a book, but that doesn't make it any less valuable," Roberts said. "My parents pushed and pulled and I got a pretty good education," and because of it, Roberts said, "I have been able to earn' a pretty good living. I have been blessed. And now it's come full circle and I find myself wanting to return' some of the blessings that I have received," through public service.
Howard Baker's Encouragement
Roberts told the crowd that, in addition to his family, "one of the important people in my life has been Senator Howard Baker."
"When he heard that I was going to run, he called to wish me well," and later sent a letter, "and stated his belief in my ability to serve this district well."
While Roberts was practicing law, Baker, the former senator and White House chief of staff, asked him to work in the Washington, D.C. office of his large law firm. "It was a wonderful experience," Roberts said, "but I always knew that my home was here in Tennessee. When I got the chance to come back, I took it."
When people in Washington would ask him why, he said, "I thought the question should have been, Why wouldn't I?'"
"The last time I went to Washington, I went by myself," Roberts said. "This time, I want to take you with me, to take the concerns and needs and thoughts and prayers from the 1st District with me."
Roberts noted that, when family members trekked to the cemetery at Timber Ridge Church six years ago to make sure the grave for his uncle Gordon was in the right place, another uncle pointed out another vacant spot "that's where we are going to put Richard." After the laughter subsided, Roberts said the difference between a New Yorker and an East Tennessean is, "An East Tennessean knows where he is going to be buried. And that's because he knows where he comes from."
He concluded, "We have enough politicians, all running to get somewhere else, to climb that ladder." He urged the crowd to "elect someone who knows where he comes from."
"My name is Richard Roberts, and I come from Greene County, and I want to be your congressman," he said.