Julia Tucker vs. Cas Walker

On November 30, 1979, millionaire grocer (that's what reporters always called him) Cas Walker was stewing over the recent city elections. He was mad at Julia Tucker for refusing to support his candidate for City Council, so he dictated a three-page letter telling her off. It started like this:

"Dear Julia:

"You put me in a very embarrassing position by not letting me know that you were not supporting Mrs. Lobetti. You'll have to remember that there is a lot that we will have to swallow that we don't exactly like the taste of. If it had not been important to have Mrs. Lobetti, I would have never been for her in the first place. Not that I wanted her to do anything crooked."

The late Georgia Lee Lobetti, wife of political operative Mose Lobetti, had gotten into the runoff election against incumbent M.T. "Tee" Bellah. Tucker, the only woman ever elected to chair the city school board, supported Bellah. This was during the contentious run-up to the 1982 World's Fair, and Walker accused Tucker of being a tool of the Chamber of Commerce, Jake Butcher, and other big-spending wastrels unnamed. Then he made a remarkable prediction, considering he was 76 years old:

"I believe with all the good I've done the Lord is liable to let me stay here another 50 years. It doesn't make one iota of difference what other people think about me, but I'll be damned if I don't feel good about myself. I just wish you had gone along just exactly like I did and swallowed all of your pride and put Knoxville first and been for Mrs. Lobetti."

Two years later, Walker would be defending himself in a $13 million libel trial, instigated by a former political opponent of Tucker's whom Walker had attacked in his weekly scandal sheet, The Watchdog, during the 1974 elections. Walker, who had supported "Little Julie Wright," that year chose to defend himself by laying the blame on Tucker, who he said had authored the offending stories. (This was an odd line of defense, since, as publisher, he was still responsible for all content.) The trial was so heavily covered by both daily newspapers that it competed for above-the-fold status with the wedding of Prince Charles and Diana. The letter would become an exhibit. Tucker would be the star witness.

She was out of town when the trial started, and the papers were full of "Where's Julia?" stories. The day the judge subpoenaed her, a bank of photographers met her at the elevator and followed her to a courtroom packed wall-to-wall with spectators. After she took the witness stand and denied writing the stories, Walker suddenly decided to settle. Her testimony brought the trial to a conclusion, but, in the view of many, set in motion a chain of events that put an end to The Watchdog, and ultimately to Walker's political influence.


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