Ned Breathitt

Ned Breathitt
Breathitt in 1964
51st Governor of Kentucky
In office
December 10, 1963 – December 12, 1967
LieutenantHarry Lee Waterfield
Preceded byBert Combs
Succeeded byLouie Nunn
Personal details
Edward Thompson Breathitt Jr.

November 26, 1924
Hopkinsville, Kentucky, U.S.
DiedOctober 14, 2003(2003-10-14) (aged 78)
Lexington, Kentucky, U.S.
Resting placeRiverside Cemetery
Hopkinsville, Kentucky,
Political partyDemocratic
Frances Holleman
(m. 1948; died 1985)

Lucy Alexander Winchester (m. 1988–2003)
Military service
Allegiance United States
Service/branch United States Army
U.S. Army Air Force
Years of service1942–1945
Battles/warsWorld War II

Edward Thompson Breathitt Jr. (November 26, 1924 – October 14, 2003) was an American politician from the Commonwealth of Kentucky. A member of one of the state's political families, he was the 51st Governor of Kentucky, serving from 1963 to 1967. After serving in World War II and graduating from the University of Kentucky, Breathitt worked on the presidential campaign of Adlai Stevenson, the senatorial campaign of Alben Barkley, and the gubernatorial campaign of Bert T. Combs. When Combs won the governorship in 1959, he appointed Breathitt as personnel commissioner, where he wrote legislation establishing the first merit system for state employees. He continued to hold appointive offices throughout Combs' tenure, and in 1962, Combs endorsed Breathitt to succeed him as governor.

Breathitt defeated two-time former governor A. B. "Happy" Chandler in the Democratic primary, ending Chandler's political career. He went on to win the general election over Republican Louie B. Nunn. Breathitt continued Combs' work of improving state highways and parks, improving education funding, and strengthening regulations on strip mining. His major accomplishment as governor was the passage of the Kentucky Civil Rights Act, the first desegregation law passed by a southern state. His biggest disappointment was his inability to win approval of a new state constitution.

Following his term as governor, Breathitt worked as legal counsel for Southern Railway, and later became vice-president of public affairs for Norfolk Southern Corporation. He engaged in numerous community service activities and served on political commissions aimed at eliminating poverty. Breathitt collapsed while making a speech at Lexington Community College on October 10, 2003. He was admitted to the University of Kentucky Hospital, but remained comatose after the collapse and died four days later.

Breathitt's oral history project is housed at the online.

Early life

Ned Breathitt was born in Hopkinsville, Kentucky, on November 26, 1924.[1] He was the only child of Edward Thompson and Mary (Wallace) Breathitt.[2] Breathitt's family had a considerable tradition in politics. A distant relative, John Breathitt had been governor of Kentucky in 1832.[2] James Breathitt, Sr., Ned Breathitt's grandfather, had served as state attorney general from 1907 to 1911, and his uncle, James Breathitt, Jr., was lieutenant governor from 1927 to 1932.[2]

Breathitt obtained his early education in the public schools of Hopkinsville and graduated from Hopkinsville High School in 1942.[2][3] Later that year, he enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Force for service in World War II, serving until 1945.[4] After the war, he matriculated to the University of Kentucky.[1] While there, he served as president of the Omicron Delta Kappa honor society and the Lamp and Cross society; he was also a member of the Sigma Alpha Epsilon social fraternity.[4] Seeing Breathitt's interest in politics, professors Jack Reeves and Thomas D. Clark asked him to chair the campus campaign supporting a new state constitution.[2] Breathitt accepted, and although the proposed constitution failed, he remained committed to seeing the document updated.[2]

In 1948, Breathitt earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in business administration.[1][4] On December 20, 1948, he married Frances Holleman of Mayfield, Kentucky.[3] The couple had four children: Mary Fran, Linda, Susan, and Edward III.[5] In 1950, Breathitt earned a Bachelor of Laws degree and returned to Hopkinsville where he joined the law firm of Trimble, Soyars, and Breathitt.[3]