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Walking Tall Recall
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Then-McMinnville Police Chief Ralph Griffith, left, shakes hands with Buford Pusser during the 1973 grand opening of the Honda Shop in McMinnville.

Grand openings of businesses are always special occasions, but one in September of 1973 was extraordinary for the city of McMinnville. 

“My mother called and said ‘I’ve got some pictures you might want’ so I went to take a look,” said Stacy Hennessee. “As soon as I saw them, yes, I did want them. She also had Buford Pusser’s autograph.”

Hennessee turned to the Southern Standard in seeking assistance in dating the pictures of Buford Pusser, who was the legendary sheriff of McNairy County from 1964 to 1970 and constable of Adamsville from 1970 to 1972. He was best known for his virtual one-man war on moonshining, prostitution, gambling and other vices that were reportedly rampant in that area.

After scanning the pictures into a computer to enlarge and examine, making a few inquiries, and digging into the Standard’s archives, the date of Pusser’s visit was Tuesday, Sept. 25, 1973, between of 4 and 6 p.m. at the Honda Shop on Morford Street.

The promotional appearance was arranged by shop owners Bill Williams and Weldon Hysmith as one of the highlights in the week-long grand opening celebration for the store. 

“The Honda Shop, which has 7,000 square feet of floor space, is located in the former Sears building. Once a part of Western Auto, the shop was moved to expand the service and parts departments to meet the needs of area riders.”

Among the pictures from the event was one of Pusser shaking hands with Williams, one of him shaking hands with then-McMinnville Police Chief Ralph Griffith, one of him autographing a large homemade bat for Weldon, and one of him walking through the shop with a large crowd in the background.

According to the Standard’s report of the visit, Pusser was “mobbed by autograph seekers” while on the promotional appearance. 

Pusser was immortalized by three screen portrayals of his career, “Walking Tall” (1973), “Walking Tall II” (1976), and “Walking Tall III: The Final Chapter” (1977). Pusser earned a reputation as a hard-nosed, no-nonsense law officer who settled disputes, often physically, with a large homemade bat.

By age 32, Pusser had been shot eight times, stabbed seven, and run over by felons in a car. On Aug. 12, 1967, Pusser witnessed the violent death of his wife in an ambush that was meant for him. 

Permanently disfigured, Pusser underwent numerous reconstructive surgeries to mend his battered face and crushed jaw.

Less than a year after Pusser’s appearance in McMinnville, he would be dead. He died Aug. 21, 1974 in a single-vehicle accident on Highway 64 near Adamsville. Questions linger about the crash and whether it was the attack that finally took down the legendary lawman.