After graduating from the University of Louisville, Wetherby held several minor offices in the Jefferson County judicial system before being elected lieutenant governor in 1947. He was called Kentucky's first "working" lieutenant governor because Governor Earle C. Clements asked him to carry out duties beyond his constitutional responsibility to preside over the state Senate, such as preparing the state budget and attending the Southern Governors Conference. In 1950, Clements resigned to assume a seat in the U.S. Senate, elevating Wetherby to governor. Wetherby won immediate acclaim by calling a special legislative session to increase funding for education and government benefits from the state's budget surplus. In 1951, he won a four-year full term as governor, during which he continued and expanded many of Clements' programs, including increased road construction and industrial diversification. He endorsed the Supreme Court's 1954 desegregation order in the case of Brown v. Board of Education and appointed a biracial commission to oversee the successful integration of the state's schools. As chairman of the Southern Governors Conference in 1954 and 1955, he encouraged other southern governors to accept and implement desegregation.
Limited to one term by the state constitution, Wetherby supported Bert Combs to be his successor, but Combs lost in the Democraticprimary to A. B. "Happy" Chandler, a former governor and factional opponent of both Wetherby and Clements. Chandler's failure to support Wetherby's 1956 bid to succeed Democrat Alben Barkley in the Senate contributed to his loss to RepublicanJohn Sherman Cooper. From 1964 to 1966, Wetherby served on a commission charged with revising the state constitution, and in 1966 he was elected to the Kentucky Senate, where he provided leadership in drafting the state budget. Following this, he retired from politics and served as a consultant for Brighton Engineering. He died March 27, 1994, of complications from a broken hip and was buried in Frankfort Cemetery in Frankfort, Kentucky.
Lawrence Wetherby was born January 2, 1908, in Middletown, Kentucky. He was the fourth child of Samuel Davis and Fanny (Yenowine) Wetherby. His grandfather was a surgeon in the Union Army during the Civil War. His father was also a physician and farmer, and during his childhood years, Wetherby worked on the family farm.
After graduating from Anchorage High School, Wetherby enrolled in the pre-law program at the University of Louisville. He was a letterman on the football team in 1927 and 1928; he also played second base on the baseball team in 1928 and 1929, and was a letterman in that sport in 1929. He was later inducted into the university's Athletic Hall of Fame. In 1929, he earned his Bachelor of Laws degree and went to work for Judge Henry Tilford. The two would remain partners until 1950. On April 24, 1930, he married Helen Dwyer; the couple had three children.
Thanks to his father's influence, Wetherby became interested in local politics at an early age. School board races fascinated him, and he allied himself with a faction of the Jefferson CountyDemocratic Party headed by Leland Taylor and Ben Ewing. When Ewing was elected county judge in 1933, he appointed Wetherby as a part-time attorney for the Jefferson County juvenile court. He held this position through 1937, then returned to it in 1942 and 1943. In March 1943, he was appointed the first trial commissioner of the juvenile court.