Wendell Ford (Wendell Hampton Ford)

Wendell Ford

Wendell 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. 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. 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. Born in Daviess County, Kentucky, Wendell 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, Wendell 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. Wendell Ford died on January 22, 2015, at the age of 90 from lung cancer, and was buried at Rosehill Elmwood Cemetery.

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  • September, 08, 1924
  • USA
  • Owensboro, Kentucky


  • January, 22, 2015
  • USA
  • Owensboro, Kentucky

Cause of Death

  • lung cancer


  • Rosehill Elmwood Cemetery
  • Owensboro, Kentucky
  • USA

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