By SAM HATCHER
Two outstanding products of public education in Wilson County are taking a front and center position here this week.
On Sunday the recently elected mayor of Memphis, the Honorable AC Wharton Jr., served as Grand Marshal of Lebanon’s Christmas parade and on Friday Astronaut Barry “Butch” Wilmore, who recently returned to earth from an 11-day mission that took him to the International Space Station, will visit his high school alma mater, Mt. Juliet High School.
Both men call Wilson County their home and both men were educated in public schools here.
And perhaps just as important, both men credit a small number of individuals who served as mentors to them for getting them on the right path to their successful careers.
Mayor Wharton, 65, elected to office with 60 percent of the vote in a special election in October, has spoken often about the influence his classroom teachers at both the elementary and high school level, have had on his life.
Although he attended public schools here at a time when schools were segregated, he still holds that many of the values he learned, he learned from a group of dedicated classroom teachers.
After graduation from high school, Mayor Wharton earned an undergraduate degree from Tennessee State University and in 1971 was graduated from the University of Mississippi School of Law with honors. He became the first African-American law professor at Ole Miss and continued as a member of the faculty for some 25 years. His career in law and justice has included important stints with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in Washington, D.C., as director of Legal Services in Memphis, and as Chief Public Defender for Shelby County. Before being elected mayor of Memphis, he was elected twice as mayor of Shelby County.
Lt. Cmdr. Wilmore, 46, who was charged with piloting Space Shuttle Atlantis on its roundtrip mission to the International Space Station, played football and other sports at Mt. Juliet High School, was awarded a football scholarship to Tennessee Tech and graduated from Tech with a degree in Electrical Engineering in 1985. Cmdr. Wilmore also holds a Master of Science degree in Electrical Engineering from Tech and a Master of Science degree in Aviation Systems from the University of Tennessee.
A Navy pilot, Cmdr. Wilmore has accumulated more than 5,900 flight hours and 663 carrier landings. He has flown combat missions in support of Operations Desert Shield, Desert Storm and Southern Watch over the skies of Iraq, as well as missions over Bosnia in support of U.S. and NATO interests. He was selected as a NASA pilot in 2000.
And, as Mayor Wharton, Cmdr. Wilmore points to a few special mentors, many of them coaches and teachers during his elementary and high school years in Mt. Juliet, as having the greatest amount of impact on him and making it possible for him to achieve the success he has.