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Harlan Mathews

Harlan Mathews

38th Treasurer; Years Served: 1974–1987

Tennessee County of Residence: Davidson

Place of Birth: Sumiton, Walker County, Alabama

Date of Birth: January 17, 1927

Date of Death: May 9, 2014

Political Affiliation: Democrat

Treasurer's Reports: 1986, 1985, 1984, 1983, 1982, 1981, 1980, 1979, 1977-78, 1976-77, 1975-76, 1974-75, 1973-74


On January 17, 1927, Harlan Mathews was born in the community of Sumiton in Walker County, Alabama. During the 1940s, Senator Mathews joined the United States Navy and served during World War II. After the war ended, Senator Mathews utilized the G.I. Bill that was given to veterans and enrolled at Jacksonville State College in Jacksonville, Alabama. He received a Bachelor of Arts degree from the college in 1949. Not long after obtaining his Bachelor’s degree, Senator Mathews decided to pursue graduate studies in Public Administration at Vanderbilt University.

Shortly after enrolling at Vanderbilt University, Senator Mathews took an entry level job with the Tennessee State Planning Office and worked in that position from 1950-1954. Senator Mathews earned his graduate degree from Vanderbilt and he also earned a law degree from the Nashville School of Law. In 1954, Senator Mathews transitioned to be a part of the budget staff of Governor Frank Clement and worked in that position until 1964. In 1964, Senator Mathews was appointed as Commissioner of Finance by Governor Buford Ellington. Senator Mathews held the position for ten years. Following, he worked for Amcon International Inc. in Memphis as the company’s senior vice president.

In 1973, Senator Mathews returned to working for the state government when he was selected as the legislative assistant for State Comptroller William Snodgrass. In 1974, Judge Thomas Wiseman, the State Treasurer at the time, chose to run for the governor position.

The Tennessee General Assembly elected Senator Mathews as the State Treasurer. He served in this position from 1974 to 1987 when he resigned to become Deputy Governor to Governor Ned Ray McWherter.

During his long tenure, Senator Mathews established the Council on Pensions and Insurance (1973), the State Pool Investment Fund (1974), the State Trust of Tennessee (1979), and the Local Government Investment Pool (1980). To further support the retirement efforts of state employees, he implemented both the 457 Deferred Compensation Plan (1980), and the 401K Deferred Compensation Plan (1983). Senator Mathews established and developed the new programs at Treasury including Unclaimed Property, the Criminal Injuries Compensation fund, and the Victims of Drunk Drivers Compensation fund.

Senator Mathews was active in the National Association of State Treasurer, and served in the leadership role as the President of the National Association of State Treasurers from 1977-1978. In 1999, Senator Mathews leadership was again recognized when he received the Lucille Maurer Award (formerly the Treasurer Emeritus Award), which is presented to a former treasurer in recognition of outstanding service to the association.

Senator Mathews served as State Treasurer until January of 1987 when appointed to become the deputy governor to Governor Ned McWherter. Governor McWherter appointed Senator Mathews to replace Vice-President Al Gore, Jr. in the United States Senate. Mathews served as a U.S. Senator from January 1993 to December of 1994, when an elected official successor was determined. After leaving the U.S. Senate, Senator Mathews joined the Nashville law firm of Farris, Mathews, Bobango, PLC.

On May 9, 2014, Senator Mathews died at the age of 87.

“Harlan Mathews,” Biographical Directory of the United States Congress; “Harlan Mathews Obituary,” The Tennessean; Tennessee State Library and Archives, Photograph DB 2606; Tennessee Blue Book, 1977; Tennessee Blue Book, 1981; Tennessee Blue Book, 1985.