Kentucky political legend Wendell Ford dies at age 90

Jan 22, 2015

Sen. Wendell Ford of Kentucky
Credit U.S. Congress

An icon of Kentucky politics, former governor and U.S. Senator Wendell Ford, has died at the age of 90 at his Owensboro home.

Ford, whose political career in Kentucky spanned four decades, was diagnosed last year with a malignancy on one of his lungs and had been undergoing chemotherapy treatments.

The Owensboro Democrat represented the Commonwealth of Kentucky in the U.S. Senate for a quarter of a century, from 1974 until 1999.

He was the first Kentucky politician to serve successively as lieutenant governor, governor and U.S. Senator. He was governor of Kentucky from Dec. 1971 to Dec. 1974, before leaving to join the Senate.

Ford, with 24 years, was the longest-serving senator from Kentucky until Republican Mitch McConnell surpassed him six years ago. McConnell, now the Republican majority leader of the Senate, had tangled with Ford while they both served in the Senate, but McConnell delivered a heart-felt eulogy to Ford this morning on the floor of the U.S. Senate.

“Wendell Ford first came to the Senate in the 1970s calling himself just a dumb country boy with dirt between his toes,’’ McConnell said on the Senate floor. “This workhorse of the Senate proved himself to be anything but.”

Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes, who was defeated for the U.S. Senate by McConnell last fall, was very close to Ford.

“I will miss my good friend and mentor, Sen. Wendell Ford,’’ Grimes said on her Twitter account this morning. “He was a statesman and deeply loved KY and its people.”

Kentucky's junior senator, Republican Rand Paul, issued a statement offering his condolences.

"Wendell Ford loved Kentucky deeply,'' Paul said in his written statement. "He served the Commonwealth and its people for decades with honor and purpose. I am honored to sit behind the same desk and serve in the same seat as Sen. Ford, a man so dedicated to his party, our state and this country."

Gov. Steve Beshear, a Democrat, said in a written statement that he learned much from Ford over the years.

"In every office in which he served, his methods were simple,'' Beshear said. "Wendell Ford listened; he care; and he got the job done. Our state and our nation are better places for his decades of thoughtful, cooperative work to help people."