Happy Chandler

Happy Chandler
Happy Chandler - Harris and Ewing Crop.jpg
44th and 49th Governor of Kentucky
In office
December 13, 1955 – December 8, 1959
LieutenantHarry Lee Waterfield
Preceded byLawrence Wetherby
Succeeded byBert Combs
In office
December 10, 1935 – October 9, 1939
LieutenantKeen Johnson
Preceded byRuby Laffoon
Succeeded byKeen Johnson
United States Senator
from Kentucky
In office
October 10, 1939 – November 1, 1945
Preceded byM. M. Logan
Succeeded byWilliam A. Stanfill
2nd Commissioner of Baseball
In office
November 1, 1945 – July 15, 1951
Preceded byKenesaw Mountain Landis
Succeeded byFord Frick
36th Lieutenant Governor of Kentucky
In office
December 8, 1931 – December 10, 1935
GovernorRuby Laffoon
Preceded byJames Breathitt Jr.
Succeeded byKeen Johnson
Member of the Kentucky Senate
from the 22nd district
In office
January 8, 1929 – December 8, 1931
Personal details
Albert Benjamin Chandler

(1898-07-14)July 14, 1898
Corydon, Kentucky, U.S.
DiedJune 15, 1991(1991-06-15) (aged 92)
Versailles, Kentucky, U.S.
Resting placePisgah Presbyterian Cemetery, Versailles, Kentucky
Political partyDemocratic
Spouse(s)Mildred Lucille Watkins (1899-1995)
RelationsBen Chandler (grandson)
Alma materTransylvania University
Harvard Law School
University of Kentucky
Military service
Allegiance United States
Service/branch United States Army
Years of service1918–1919
Battles/warsWorld War I

Baseball career
Member of the National
Empty Star.svg Empty Star.svg Empty Star.svg Baseball Hall of Fame Empty Star.svg Empty Star.svg Empty Star.svg
Election MethodVeteran’s Committee

Albert Benjamin "Happy" Chandler Sr. (July 14, 1898 – June 15, 1991) was an American politician from the Commonwealth of Kentucky. He represented the Commonwealth in the U.S. Senate and served as its 44th and 49th governor. Aside from his political positions, he also served as the second Commissioner of Baseball from 1945 to 1951 and was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1982. His grandson, Ben Chandler, later served as congressman for Kentucky's Sixth District.

A multi-sport athlete during his college days at Transylvania College, Chandler briefly considered a career in professional baseball before deciding to pursue a law degree. After graduation, he entered politics and was elected as a Democrat to the Kentucky Senate in 1928. Two years later, he was elected lieutenant governor, serving under Governor Ruby Laffoon. Chandler and Laffoon disagreed on the issue of instituting a state sales tax and when Chandler, the presiding officer in the state senate, worked to block the legislation, Laffoon's allies in the General Assembly stripped him of many of his statutory powers. The tax then passed by a narrow margin. Knowing that Laffoon would try to select his own successor at the Democratic nominating convention, Chandler waited until Laffoon left the state—leaving Chandler as acting governor—and called the legislature into session to enact a mandatory primary election bill. The bill passed, and in the ensuing primary, Chandler defeated Laffoon's choice, Thomas Rhea. He then went on to defeat Republican King Swope by the largest margin of victory for a Kentucky gubernatorial race to that time. As governor, Chandler oversaw the repeal of the sales tax, replacing the lost revenue with new excise taxes and the state's first income tax. He also enacted a major reorganization of state government, realizing significant savings for the state. He used these savings to pay off the state debt and improve the state's education and transportation systems.

Convinced that he was destined to become President of the United States, Chandler challenged Senate Majority Leader Alben Barkley for his U.S. Senate seat in 1938. During the campaign, President Franklin D. Roosevelt came to the state to campaign for Barkley, and Chandler lost a close race. The following year, Kentucky's other senator, Marvel Mills Logan, died in office, and Chandler resigned as governor so his successor could appoint him to the vacant seat. A fiscal conservative and disciple of Virginia's Harry F. Byrd, Chandler opposed parts of Roosevelt's New Deal and openly disagreed with the president's decision to prioritize European operations in World War II over the war in the Pacific. In 1945, Chandler resigned his senate seat to succeed the late Kenesaw Mountain Landis as commissioner of baseball. His most significant action as commissioner was the approval of Jackie Robinson's contract with the Brooklyn Dodgers, effectively integrating Major League Baseball. He also established the first pension fund for Major League players, earning him the title "the players' commissioner". Baseball owners were upset with Chandler's governance, however, and did not renew his contract in 1951.

Following his term as commissioner, Chandler returned to Kentucky and won a second term as governor in 1955. The major accomplishments of his second term were enforcing the racial integration of the state's public schools and establishing a medical school at the University of Kentucky which was later named the Chandler Medical Center in his honor. Following his second term as governor, his political influence began to wane as he made three more unsuccessful runs for governor in 1963, 1967, and 1971. His endorsement of dark-horse candidate Wallace G. Wilkinson was seen as critical to Wilkinson's successful gubernatorial campaign in 1988. Wilkinson later resisted calls to remove Chandler from the University of Kentucky board of trustees following Chandler's use of a racial epithet during a board meeting in 1988. In his retirement, Chandler made numerous public appearances and remained active in state politics and events. Chandler died a month before his ninety-third birthday; at the time, he was the oldest living former Kentucky governor as well as the earliest serving former governor.[1]

Early life

Albert Benjamin Chandler was born in the farming community of Corydon, Kentucky, in 1898.[2] He was the eldest child of Joseph Sephus and Callie (Saunders) Chandler.[3] Chandler's father allegedly rescued his mother from an orphanage and married her when she was 15, but no record of their marriage has ever been found.[4] In 1899, Chandler's brother Robert was born. Two years later, their mother, still in her teens and unable to cope with raising two young children, abandoned the family. She fled the state and left her sons with their father.[4] In his autobiography, Chandler said that his mother's leaving them was his earliest memory.[4] Years later, he sought his mother and found her living in Jacksonville, Florida. She had married again and he had three half-siblings.[4] His full brother, Robert Chandler, died when he fell from a cherry tree when he was 13 years old.[5]

Chandler was raised by his father and relatives, and by age 8, he virtually supported himself financially from his paper route and doing odd jobs in his community.[6] In 1917, he graduated from Corydon High School,[3] where he had been captain of the baseball and football teams.[7] His father wanted him to study for the ministry, but Chandler instead entered Transylvania College (now Transylvania University) in Lexington, Kentucky.[2][8] It was there that he received his lifelong nickname "Happy" because of his jovial nature.[7] He paid for his education by doing chores for the local citizens.[9] Chandler was captain of Transylvania's basketball and baseball teams and the quarterback of the football team. He was a teammate of Dutch Meyer, a future member of the College Football Hall of Fame.[9][10] He also joined the Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity and the Omicron Delta Kappa honor society.[11] In 1918, during World War I, the United States Army started a Student Officers' Training Corps at Transylvania, and Chandler began training to be an officer. The war ended before he was called to active duty.[10]

In 1920, Chandler pitched a no-hitter for Grafton, North Dakota's team in the Red River Valley League.[12] He attended a professional baseball tryout in Saskatoon but did not make the team.[12] He returned to Transylvania and received a Bachelor of Arts degree in June 1921.[11] He then signed with the Class D baseball team the Lexington Reds, where he was a teammate of future Hall of Famer Earle Combs.[13] Briefly considering a career in baseball, he finally decided to study law.[14] He entered Harvard Law School that same year,[3] paying his way by coaching high school sports in Wellesley, Massachusetts.[15] His former teammate Charlie Moran, then coaching the Centre College Praying Colonels football team in Danville, Kentucky, asked him to scout the national powerhouse Harvard Crimson, an upcoming opponent for Centre.[14] Chandler took copious notes for Moran, and Centre defeated Harvard 6–0 in what is considered one of the greatest upsets in college football history.[16]

After a year, Chandler was not able to afford Harvard.[15] He returned to Kentucky and continued at the University of Kentucky College of Law,[3] coaching high school sports in Versailles and served as the head coach of the women's basketball at the University of Kentucky in 1923.[12][17] He was an assistant coach and scout for Charlie Moran at Centre, and he coached the freshman football team there.[16] A member of the Order of the Coif, he received his Bachelor of Laws degree in 1924.[11] He was admitted to the bar the following year and opened his law practice in Versailles.[2][11]

On November 12, 1925, Chandler married Mildred Lucille Watkins, a teacher at the Margaret Hall School for Girls.[18] They would have four children: Marcella, Mildred ("Mimi"), Albert Jr., and Joseph Daniel.[19] Mimi Chandler played one of the four singing sisters in the 1944 film And the Angels Sing, appearing with Dorothy Lamour, Betty Hutton, and Diana Lynn before abandoning acting and working for the Kentucky Department of Tourism.[20]

For the next five years, Chandler simultaneously practiced law, coached high school sports, and served as a scout for Centre.[9] He joined numerous fraternal organizations, including the Freemasons, Shriners, Knights Templar, Forty and Eight, and Optimist International.[8]