President Bush has chosen a popular former governor who was seen as a rising Republican star in the 1980s to help him achieve his goal of becoming the education president.
Lamar Alexander, 50, was touted as a possible running mate to Bush in the 1988 election campaign, but that didn't stop him from taking his wife and four children to Australia for six months after his second term as Tennessee governor ended in 1986.
"People couldn't believe it: The others are running for president and you're running for the other side of the world. I just went to be there with my family and think about what I wanted to do next," said Alexander, who wrote a book about his extended vacation.
"No governor in the country is so clearly identified with the imperative to improve education in America," the president said in announcing Alexander's nomination, which reCannot distribute vertically quires Senate confirmation.
Alexander succeeds Lauro Cavazos, who resigned on request last week.
President of the University of Tennessee since 1988, Alexander said his priorities as education secretary will be to improve schools for children and training and adult education opportunities for U.S. workers who need new skills for the changing workplace.
He is no stranger to Washington. A lawyer and a son of teachers, he got his start in politics as an aide to then-Sen. Howard Baker of Tennessee. He worked as an aide in the Richard Nixon White House before running unsuccessfully for governor in 1974.
He won on his next try in 1978 and served two terms before having to leave office in 1986 because state law prevented him from seeking another term. He has been president of the University of Tennessee since 1988, when his name was mentioned as a possible vice presidential mate for Bush.
As governor of Tennessee, Alexander's major achievement was a "Better Schools" program that rewarded outstanding teachers with more pay and recognition and sought to raise the teaching profession's status. His idea for incentive pay for teachers was hailed by the Ronald Reagan administration.
Alexander also won plaudits in the state for persuading General Motors to locate a $5 billion new plant to make Saturn cars there. He spoke proudly of the achievement when he appeared with Bush Monday.
An avid outdoorsman, Alexander was named in 1985 to chair the President's Commission on American Outdoors, a panel that reported on U.S. outdoor recreational needs in the next century.
As chairman of the National Governors Association in 1985-86, he was considered a rising star in the Republican party.
Born in Tennessee, he graduated from Vanderbilt University in 1962 and obtained his law degree from New York University before returning to Knoxville to join a law firm. He later become clerk to an eminent U.S. appeals court judge, John Minor Wisdom.
He supplemented his pay by playing the piano at a local club. He later put that talent to work as governor, once going on stage to entertain a GOP meeting at Opryland with Tennessee favorites.
In 1966 he became an aide in Baker's campaign for election and joined him in Washington as legislative aide.
Alexander later was executive assistant to Bryce Harlow, Nixon's congressional relations adviser.
He married Leslee Kathryn Buhler, known as Honey, in 1969 and they have four children -- Drew, Leslie, Kathryn and Will.