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'Celebration of Life' for former Tennessee Governor Don Sundquist set for Shelby County

The Illinois native was the most recent governor to hail from West Tennessee during his time in office from 1995 to 2003.

MEMPHIS, Tenn — A "Celebration of Life" has been announced for Shelby County for Don Sundquist, the former Tennessee congressman and two-term governor who died earlier this week.

He died overnight at Baptist hospital in Memphis at the age of 87, friends confirmed to ABC24 Sunday morning, Aug. 27, 2023. Governor Bill Lee's office shared the news stating that Sundquist passed peacefully, "surrounded by family, following surgery and a short illness."

The Shelby County service will be held Thursday, Aug. 31 at Christ Church Memphis, 4488 Poplar Avenue. A short visitation will start at 10 a.m., followed by the service at 11 a.m. Additional parking will be available at the Oak Court Mall, across the street from the church on Poplar. Law enforcement will be in attendance to help those crossing Poplar Avenue.

The Illinois native was the most recent governor to hail from West Tennessee during his time in office from 1995 to 2003.  He and his wife, Martha, moved to Townsend in the Smoky mountains right after leaving office. But about a year and a half ago, with his health declining, the couple moved to a retirement facility in Collierville. 

Sundquist's close friends say he was taken off a ventilator Saturday night and was with his closest family at the time of his passing.  While arrangements have not been finalized, ABC24 has confirmed the governor will lie in state at the capitol in Nashville on Sept. 7.  

After that, he will be buried in Townsend, Tennessee at the base of the Smoky Mountains he loved so much. 

“We are comforted by our faith and friends, and know he is with our Lord and loved ones in heaven,” former first lady Martha Sundquist said.

Before Sundquist's time as governor, he was a six-term congressman representing the Memphis area starting in the early 1980s.

Sundquist had a reputation as a conservative but soon after getting elected to his second term, he proposed tax reform measures that drew quick criticism. 

Seeking more revenue for the state, he proposed what amounted to an income tax, something most state politicians are loathe to discuss.

It sparked protests and left a mark on his term as governor.

"Governor Sundquist was an impactful leader and principled statesman who devoted his life to public service,” current Tennessee governor Bill Lee said. “As Tennessee’s governor for two terms, he contributed to our state’s legacy of fiscal responsibility and expanded opportunity for Tennesseans through historic economic development. Maria and I join all Tennesseans in honoring Governor Sundquist’s remarkable life, and we pray God’s comfort over Martha and their family in the days ahead.” 

While in office, Sundquist also pushed for welfare reform, and Tennessee offered universal health insurance, according to the National Governors Association. Sundquist also was a major booster of economic development for the state.

Friends and officials alike posted tributes to Sundquist on social media.

Sundquist is survived by his wife of 64 years — Martha Sundquist and their children Adrea, Tania (David) and Deke as well as granddaughters Gabby (Markos) and Alex.

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