Wendell Ford

Wendell Ford
Sen Wendell Ford of Ky.jpg
Senate Minority Whip
In office
January 3, 1995 – January 3, 1999
LeaderTom Daschle
Preceded byAlan Simpson
Succeeded byHarry Reid
Senate Majority Whip
In office
January 3, 1991 – January 3, 1995
LeaderGeorge Mitchell
Preceded byAlan Cranston
Succeeded byTrent Lott
United States Senator
from Kentucky
In office
December 28, 1974 – January 3, 1999
Preceded byMarlow Cook
Succeeded byJim Bunning
53rd Governor of Kentucky
In office
December 7, 1971 – December 28, 1974
LieutenantJulian Carroll
Preceded byLouie Nunn
Succeeded byJulian Carroll
45th Lieutenant Governor of Kentucky
In office
December 12, 1967 – December 7, 1971
GovernorLouie Nunn
Preceded byHarry Waterfield
Succeeded byJulian Carroll
Member of the Kentucky Senate
from the 8th district
In office
1966 – December 12, 1967
Preceded byCasper Gardner
Succeeded byDelbert S. Murphy
Personal details
BornWendell Hampton Ford
(1924-09-08)September 8, 1924
Owensboro, Kentucky, U.S.
DiedJanuary 22, 2015(2015-01-22) (aged 90)
Owensboro, Kentucky, U.S.
Resting placeRosehill Elmwood Cemetery
Political partyDemocratic
Spouse(s)
Jean Neel (m. 1943)
Alma mater
Military service
Service/branchUnited States Army
Years of service1944–1946; 1949–1962
Rank
UnitKentucky Army National Guard
Battles/warsWorld War II
Awards

Wendell Hampton Ford (September 8, 1924 – January 22, 2015) was an American politician from the Commonwealth of Kentucky. He served for twenty-four years in the U.S. Senate and was the 53rd Governor of Kentucky. He was the first person to be successively elected lieutenant governor, governor and United States senator in Kentucky history.[1] The Senate Democratic whip from 1991 to 1999, he was considered the leader of the state's Democratic Party from his election to governor in 1971 until his retirement from the Senate in 1999.[2] At the time of his retirement, he was the longest-serving senator in Kentucky's history, a mark which was then surpassed by Mitch McConnell in 2009. As of 2018, he is the last Democrat to have served as a Senator from the state of Kentucky.

Born in Daviess County, Kentucky, Ford attended the University of Kentucky, but his studies were interrupted by his service in World War II. After the war, he graduated from the Maryland School of Insurance and returned to Kentucky to help his father with the family insurance business. He also continued his military service in the Kentucky Army National Guard. He worked on the gubernatorial campaign of Bert T. Combs in 1959, and became Combs' executive assistant when Combs was elected governor. Encouraged to run for the Kentucky Senate by Combs' ally and successor, Ned Breathitt, Ford won the seat and served one four-year term before running for lieutenant governor in 1967. He was elected on a split ticket with Republican Louie B. Nunn. Four years later, Ford defeated Combs in an upset in the Democratic primary en route to the governorship.

As governor, Ford made government more efficient by reorganizing and consolidating some departments in the executive branch. He raised revenue for the state through a severance tax on coal and enacted reforms to the educational system. He purged most of the Republicans from statewide office, including helping Walter "Dee" Huddleston win the Senate seat vacated by the retirement of Republican stalwart John Sherman Cooper. In 1974, Ford himself ousted the other incumbent senator, Republican Marlow Cook. Following the rapid rise of Ford and many of his political allies, he and his lieutenant governor, Julian Carroll, were investigated on charges of political corruption, but a grand jury refused to indict them. As senator, Ford was a staunch defender of Kentucky's tobacco industry. He also formed the Senate National Guard Caucus with Missouri senator Kit Bond. Chosen as Democratic party whip in 1991, Ford considered running for floor leader in 1994 before throwing his support to Connecticut's Christopher Dodd. He retired from the Senate in 1999 and returned to Owensboro, where he taught politics to youth at the Owensboro Museum of Science and History.

Early life

Wendell Ford was born near Owensboro, in Daviess County, Kentucky, on September 8, 1924.[3] He was the son of Ernest M. and Irene Woolfork (Schenk) Ford.[4] His father was a state senator and ally of Kentucky Governor Earle C. Clements.[2] Ford obtained his early education in the public schools of Daviess County and graduated from Daviess County High School.[5] From 1942 to 1943, he attended the University of Kentucky.[3]

On September 18, 1943, Ford married Jean Neel of Owensboro at the home of the bride's parents.[6] The couple had two children. Daughter Shirley (Ford) Dexter was born in 1950 and son Steven Ford was born in 1954.[2][6] The family attended First Baptist Church in Owensboro.[6]

In 1944, Ford left the University of Kentucky to join the army, enlisting for service in World War II on July 22, 1944.[7] He was trained as an administrative non-commissioned officer and promoted to the rank of technical sergeant on November 17, 1945.[7] Over the course of his service, he received the American Campaign Medal and the World War II Victory Medal and earned the Expert Infantryman Badge and Good Conduct Medal.[7] He was honorably discharged on June 18, 1946.[4]

Following the war, Ford returned home to work with his father in the family insurance business, and graduated from the Maryland School of Insurance in 1947.[3][4] On June 7, 1949, he enlisted in the Kentucky Army National Guard and was assigned to Company I of the 149th Infantry Regimental Combat Team in Owensboro.[7] On August 7, 1949, he was promoted to Second Lieutenant of Infantry.[7] In 1949, Ford's company was converted from infantry to tanks, and Ford served as a Company Commander in the 240th Tank Battalion.[7] Promoted to First Lieutenant of Armor, he transferred to the inactive Guard in 1956, before being discharged in 1962.[7]

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