Sen. Howard Baker, known around Huntsville, Tennessee, as “Howard Henry,” said his longtime secretary Doris Lovett was a “remarkable, remarkable woman.”
Young pup secretaries scooting around the funeral home in Oneida, Tennessee, all said, through their tears, “She taught me everything I know.”
That probably goes for the retired U.S. Sen. Baker, whose last job was Ambassador to Japan for President George W. Bush, as well.
The same likely holds true for Sen. Baker’s father, U.S. Rep. Howard H. Baker, where Miss Lovett began her Washington career running highly-strung political offices at the tender age of 22.
Her story could be told as an Appalachian romance: young girl from back roads of Scott County, recognized as a hard-worker and smart, goes to Washington to work for a leading congressman, stays for nearly a half century in the back halls of power, helping to shape history.
That is practically the plot line and memoir for Doris Lovett, 82, who died Jan. 22 and was buried on a hilltop in the Hazel Valley Cemetery overlooking her beloved Oneida.
In a nutshell, she was lifted from obscurity at 17 when she graduated in 1945 from Oneida High School as Class Valedictorian. Miss Lovett, who never married, went to work for the old Oneida and Western Railroad soon after graduating.
Her Gregg shorthand was “just like it came out of the book,” says Billy Hamilton, who learned from Lovett and is a secretary in the law offices for the Baker Donelson firm in Huntsville.
Six years later, in 1951 when Howard H. Baker was elected to represent Tennessee’s 2nd District in the U.S. House of Representatives in Washington, he took the smart and efficient Doris Lovett with him as his secretary.
“You have a considerably better future in Washington than at the O&W,” the senior Baker told her, according to Fred Marcum, Sen. Baker’s longtime personal aide.
“She would tell you, you will find that file on the third shelf on top of the black box,” says Cathy Burke, Lovett’s caregiver for a year and former secretary at the Baker firm.
Miss Lovett remained on Congressman Baker’s staff until his death in 1964. When Irene B. Baker filled her husband’s unexpired term, Doris didn’t miss a beat, running the office for Mrs. Baker. And later she even served briefly as U.S. Rep. John J. Duncan’s secretary. He was from Oneida, too.
From 1965-66, she was secretary to the influential Republican U.S. Sen. Everett M. Dirksen of Illinois at a time when he was Senate Majority Leader.
The same year his father ran for Congress, Howard H. Baker Jr. married Sen. Dirksen’s daughter, Joy, merging two highly politically prominent families.
In 1966, Baker became the first popularly elected Republican senator in Tennessee history and the first Republican to win a statewide election since 1920.
Again, Doris Lovett moved right into the new senator’s office and began to help him negotiate the corridors of power.
“Doris was a remarkable woman,” Baker said at her funeral service, which attracted a large gathering of family and friends at the Jones & Son Funeral Home in Oneida.
“My father first hired her when she graduated from high school. She went to work for him in Washington in his Congressional office.
“She was remarkable for me before I went to the Senate and after I went to the Senate,” Baker said.
“She knew that job about as well as anybody I know,” said Baker, who is the Huntsville firm’s Senior Counsel focusing his practice on public policy and international matters.
Baker said Lovett was not with him when he served as Chief of Staff for President Ronald Reagan, 1987-88.
“I would have taken her, and she would have done well in the White House, but she wanted to come home.”
At the time, family and friends say, her mother, Lassie Trammell Lovett, was ill, and Miss Lovett wanted to return to Oneida to care for her mother.
But prior to that, she was still in Washington with Sen. Baker in 1973 when he served as Vice Chairman of the Senate Watergate Hearings grilling witnesses over the break-ins at the Democratic Headquarters.
He became nationally known during the hearings for his laser-like questioning of witnesses by asking, “What did the President know, and when did he know it.”
Baker said the hearings sent crushing hordes of people to his Senate office.
“Doris was the traffic cop in the office,” he says.
“Believe me, there were a lot of folks who came through (the senator’s personal office).”
She was also there throughout Baker’s senate career, including his tenures as Senate Majority Leader, 1981 to 1985 and as Senate Minority Leader, 1977 to 1981.
Baker said he visited his old friend and secretary a week before she died.
“She was just as alert and strong.
“She lived well, she worked well and she passed away well.”
Even though she was not at the White House, Miss Lovett continued as the senator’s secretary, working out of the Huntsville and Knoxville offices. Here, she took many a secretary under her wing and taught them as she had once taught the senator.
One was Betty Lowe, who continues to work part-time for Baker in Huntsville.
“Lord,” Lowe said at the funeral services, “she taught me everything I know.”
Tomilee Swain, who also worked for Baker, remembers when she was on her high school senior trip to Washington, one of the stops was Rep. Baker’s office.
“Doris had a real impact on all the seniors,” said Swain. “She took care of us, especially if she knew we were from Oneida.
“We even got to eat in the Congressional Dining Hall.
“Doris never forgot her upbringing,” said Swain. “She was the most loyal Baker person I have ever met.”
That was the working side of Miss Lovett’s life, but there was another.
In 1996, Miss Lovett retired from the firm and concentrated on her love of Scott County history.
She was a charter member of the Scott County Historical Society and was a former director until her failing health forced her to step down preceding her death.
And there was her church, Pentecost Baptist of Oneida, where she had been a member since 1938.
As the Standing Stone Bluegrass band sang, “Don’t look on my cold, body/I have finished my time here allotted/I’ve gone to the place Jesus promised,” her minister, the Rev. James Laxton, was winding up his sermon for the service.
“This is not the end,” said her minister.
“Doris is on the other side of the River Jordan. And we will be together in the sweet by and by,” he said.