NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Larry Daughtrey, a longtime political reporter and columnist for The Tennessean newspaper, has died. He was 76.
Senior Judge Martha Daughtrey of the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals says her husband died Thursday following complications from lung disease.
Daughtrey began his career at the paper while still studying at Vanderbilt University, and spent his entire career covering politics in Nashville, declining to follow Tennessean colleagues such as David Halberstam, Bill Kovach and Jim Squires to bigger cities and newspapers.
Daughtrey was often underestimated by the subjects of his reporting, said Kovach, who became Washington bureau chief for The New York Times and the editor of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
"He was so quiet and almost shy in the management of himself and his body language and his questions about public figures," Kovach recalled in a phone interview on Friday. "They mistook that for a lack of strength. And how wrong they were."
Former Vice President Al Gore, who also got his start at the newspaper, said Daughtrey's ability to explain the complex political issues remains unmatched.
"His work commanded the highest respect from both sides of the aisle and his voice of reason will be missed," Gore said in a statement.
Republican U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander called Daughtrey "the finest writer in our class at Vanderbilt University," a gift he brought to The Tennessean when he began his career there in 1962.
"He relished reporting, was fair about it, and good at it," said Alexander, whom Daughtrey also covered during his two terms as Tennessee governor. "He had sources all over the state Capitol."
Daughtrey kept up his column after retiring in 1997, turning in his last piece — about the Nashville mayor's race — last September.
Daughtrey helped expose a scheme in 1962 to alter the outcome of a congressional election by submitting absentee ballots from people — even the dead — who hadn't voted. The paper's reporting led to the conviction of Councilman Gene "Little Evil" Jacobs. Kovach, Daughtrey and photographer Jack Corn were there to see him off to prison.
"He said, 'Well, boys, I'll tell you one thing, you've sent me off to prison but you never wrote no lies about me,'" Kovach said.
Former Tennessean political editor Frank Gibson recalled when Daughtrey was assigned to report on Gore's admission in the 1988 presidential race that he had smoked marijuana in college. Because Gore also worked for The Tennessean the whole time he was at Vanderbilt, Daughtrey asked fellow staffers to declare whether they had taken drugs with the future candidate.
"One Sunday afternoon my phone rings at home, and Daughtrey asks me if I ever smoked pot with Al Gore," Gibson said. "I said, well, Larry, can we go off the record?' And he said, 'Why, hell no!'"
For the record, Gibson said he hadn't even known Gore in college, but it was a testament to Daughtrey's tenacity that he wouldn't let his colleagues off the hook.
Gibson said Daughtrey worked at a deliberate pace, despite his deep sourcing and encyclopedic knowledge of Tennessee politics.
"He didn't want to get in a hurry, but he didn't have to, because he was already ahead of everybody," Gibson said.
Associated Press Writer Travis Loller contributed to this report.