Civic Engagement

Sarah Polk: First Lady (Acting As Chief Of Staff) Leads Bipartisan Initiatives

We noticed the James K. Polk House in Columbia, Tennessee on our way to hike a short trail celebrating the opening of the Joy Gleghorn Wells Hill Park Natural Area in Fayetteville. This is a large tract of land donated to the Tennessee Parks and Greenways Foundation (TennGreen) by Charles Gleghorn and his family with the intention that the land will eventually be transferred to Lincoln County and protected as a natural area in perpetuity.

It was the first sunny day following a long stretch of rain, a welcome change in the weather and a terrific opportunity to be hiking outdoors. Big shout out to Steve Law and his team at TennGreen for sponsoring a great event.

Visit With Lincoln County Mayor Bill Newman

It was a pleasure to spend most of the walk back with Bill Newman, Mayor of Lincoln County. Bill was elected in 2014 having served as a long time County Commissioner. He started his career as a veterinarian and later gave that up to be a realtor. We talk about the local economy, politics and priorities. If you spend just a little time with Bill you quickly discern that he has a strong faith in God and prayerfully considers all of the important decisions.


I thought it was interesting that, while Bill is a big fan and Randy Boyd (Republican) for Governor, he is also supportive of Phil Bredeson (Democrat) currently running for the United States Senate. Boyd earned Bill’s vote by playing an active role in supporting Lincoln County economic development initiatives while serving as the Governor’s Economic and Community Development Commissioner. The Mayor thinks Bredeson deserves to be a U.S. Senator because “he is a successful businessman and served well as Nashville Mayor and Governor.”

In both cases, Bill made it clear that the overriding consideration is “trust.” It was heartening to hear the Mayor emphasize trust over partisanship and ideology.

Polk Home Visit

On our way home we visited the James K. Polk Ancestral Home and took a brief tour. It was good to hear a refresh on the Polk presidency, his role in waging the war on Mexico to expand our boarders to what is today Texas, New Mexico and California as well as westward expansion through the Oregon territory and negotiating the border with Canada.

The most interesting thing about the Polk Home tour was hearing about his wife, First Lady Sarah Polk. A devout Christian, she set a somber tone at the White House, forbidding dancing, for example.

First Lady as Chief of Staff

Sarah Polk served as her husband’s personal secretary and would often meet congressmen who came to visit the White House. In many ways, she served in the role that we now think of as the President’s Chief of Staff. For example, she:

  • Clipped newspaper stories, choosing what news reports the President would read;
  •  Reviewing correspondence, selecting which letters were important enough to bring to the President’s attention;
  • Historians report conclusively that Sarah Polk had the ultimate say with whom her husband would meet, even including members of Congress, the Supreme Court and high ranking military officials;

The tour guide highlighted in the dining room that Sarah Polk would host four hour long dinners for members of Congress with over 100 courses which became a successful tactic for working out bipartisan compromise among those with entrenched positions on both sides of the issue of the day by forcing them to talk with each other over an extended meal with the First Lady acting as facilitator.



Published on May 5, 2018 5:06pm

John Deane

Article By

John Deane

Born in Baltimore in 1961, John attended American University. For 32 years, John led a successful career as a senior healthcare executive. In 1998 John founded Southwind Health Partners, a start-up healthcare business focused on providing management services for hospital and health system sponsored physician practices out of his home in Nashville and over 20 years grew the business into one of the nation’s pre-eminent healthcare consulting practices. Following the acquisition of Southwind by Advisory Board John led the development of an expansive, full-service consulting and management division serving over 250 health system clients in 50 states with approximately 400 consultants and staff.

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