Attorney, U.S. Senator, and Ambassador to the People’s Republic of China James R. Sasser was born in Memphis in 1936, the son of Joseph Ralph and Mary Nell Gray Sasser. He attended the public schools of Nashville and was enrolled at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, 1954-55. He completed undergraduate studies at Vanderbilt University and received the B.A. degree in 1958. In 1961 he graduated with the J.D. degree from Vanderbilt Law School. Admitted to the Tennessee bar the same year, he practiced law in the Nashville firm of Goodpasture, Carpenter, Woods and Sasser from 1961 to 1977.
Active in the Democratic Party since his work in Estes Kefauver’s 1960 Senate campaign, Sasser served as chairman of the state party from 1973 to 1976. In 1976 Sasser successfully campaigned for the U.S. Senate, defeating a veteran Democratic Party candidate in the primary and the incumbent Republican senator in the general election. Twice reelected, he served eighteen consecutive years in the Senate. Chairman of the Senate Budget Committee from 1989 to 1995, he played a decisive role in the passage of the 1993 Deficit Reduction Package. He also chaired the military construction subcommittee of the Committee on Appropriations; the subcommittee on International Finance and Monetary Policy of the Senate Banking Committee; the subcommittee on General Services, Federalism, and the District of Columbia of the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee; and the subcommittee on Legislative Branch of the Committee on Appropriations.
In 1996 Sasser became U.S. ambassador to the People’s Republic of China after serving as a Fellow in the Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University, during 1995. He received honorary degrees from Tusculum College in Greeneville and Lane College in Jackson. Sasser served as a regent of the Smithsonian Institution, 1987-95, and as a trustee of the Sgt. Alvin C. York Historical Association, 1993-95.
In 1962 Sasser married the former Mary Gorman of Louisville, Kentucky. They are the parents of two children, Elizabeth B. Sasser and James Gray Sasser.