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‘A hard person not to like.’ Kentuckians remember Gov. Brereton Jones.


‘A hard person not to like.’ Kentuckians remember Gov. Brereton Jones.

Sep 18, 2023 | 10:55 am ET
By Jack Brammer
‘A hard person not to like.’ Kentuckians remember Gov. Brereton Jones.
Kentucky's 58th governor, Brereton Jones participated in a 2005 KET roundtable discussion with other former Kentucky governors led by the late Al Smith. (KET screenshot)

Former Kentucky Gov. Brereton Jones, who emphasized health care reform and government ethics in his administration from 1991 to 1995 and who was a major figure in the state’s horse industry, has died at 84.

Gov. Andy Beshear announced the death late Monday on social media.

‘A hard person not to like.’ Kentuckians remember Gov. Brereton Jones.
Gov. Brereton C. Jones portrait. (Kentucky Historical Society)

“I was sad to learn that former Governor and Lieutenant Gov. Brereton Jones has passed away,” said Beshear, a fellow Democrat. “Gov. Jones was a dedicated leader and distinguished thoroughbred owner who worked to strengthen Kentucky for our families. Please join Britainy and me in praying for Libby and his family.”

Beshear noted that the Jones family has asked for privacy, and that more information will be shared in the coming days.

Jones has been ill for several years.

U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Louisville said, “The people of Kentucky benefited from Governor Jones’ leadership, both when he was in public office and afterward when he dedicated himself to educating Kentuckians about our state’s unique cultural heritage.

“I know his leadership and public service will continue to serve as an inspiration to us all.”

Kentucky House Speaker David Osborne, R-Prospect, said Jones was “a good man and a fine man. He cared deeply about the people of our Commonwealth and his commitment to Kentucky remained a common thread in every aspect of his life, whether it be political, civic, business, or personal.

“One of the greatest hallmarks of his character was that he simply did not care who got the credit as long as the goal was accomplished. As governor, as well as in the three decades since leaving office, he found a way to balance progress with knowing what must be preserved. We saw it in the issues he tackled in office, as well as in his work to bring the equine industry together.”

While Kentucky lost a great leader, said Osborne, his family lost a husband, father and friend. “I hope they find comfort in knowing that the Commonwealth is better because of his efforts.”

Kentucky House Democratic leaders — Derrick Graham, Cherlynn Stevenson and Rachel Roberts — said in a statement, “We are saddened to learn of the passing of former Gov. Brereton Jones, and extend condolences to his family.

“He served Kentucky admirably as lieutenant governor and governor, twin roles in which he left an indelible mark on the commonwealth. He was a staunch advocate for improving health care access for all citizens; he embraced needed ethics reforms for government; he was a vocal supporter of our signature horse industry and state parks; and he helped clear the way for future constitutional offices to serve two consecutive terms.

“There is no doubt that Kentuckians are much better off because of Governor Jones’ public service.”

‘A hard person not to like.’ Kentuckians remember Gov. Brereton Jones.
Former Kentucky governor and first lady, Brereton and Libby Jones. Brereton Jones has died at 84. (Airdrie Stud photo)

Keeneland President and CEO Shanon Arvin said Jones “was widely respected for his leadership and integrity, serving the Thoroughbred industry as a statesman and visionary and the Commonwealth of Kentucky as governor and lieutenant governor.

“His passion for horses and the land knew no bounds and culminated in his beloved Airdrie Stud, which for more than 50 years has been one of the world’s foremost breeding operations. He believed in racing and worked tirelessly to improve our sport as a founding member of the Breeders’ Cup and the Kentucky Equine Education Project, a member of The Jockey Club, and by championing formation of the Kentucky Breeders’ Incentive Fund.

“At Keen­­­­­eland, we will remember Gov. Jones fondly as a breeder, owner, consignor ­­and a buyer of the highest caliber, and for being a valued member of ­­­our Advisory Board.  We will celebrate his life and contributions, and the tremendous legacy he leaves behind.”

Louisville strategic communications executive Chad Carlton, who covered the Jones administration for the Lexington Herald-Leader’s Frankfort bureau, said Jones was “a hard person not to like.”

“He really believed he could bring people together. He was most upset when he couldn’t do that all the time. Overall, he helped restore integrity to government.”

Brereton Chandler Jones was born June 27, 1939, in Gallipolis, Ohio, and was raised in West Virginia. He was a Republican member of the West Virginia House of Delegates and served as its GOP floor leader.

He left politics to run a real estate business. In 1970, he married Elizabeth “Libby” Lloyd,  whose family owned an estate in Kentucky’s Woodford County known as Airdrie Farm.  They had two children, Lucy and Bret.

Jones and his wife founded Airdrie Stud, a prominent Thoroughbred breeding operation.

In 1975, he changed his party registration to Democrat and was appointed to several boards and commissions by the late Gov. John Y. Brown Jr. and Gov. Martha Layne Collins.

In 1987, Jones won a bid for lieutenant governor and was not shy about saying he viewed it as a stepping stone to the governorship. At the time candidates for governor and lieutenant governor ran separate from each other.

As lieutenant governor, he had a strained relationship with then-Gov. Wallace Wilkinson. He did not help Wilkinson reach his goal of achieving gubernatorial succession, allowing governors to succeed themselves.

That did not come until Jones was governor, in no small part because he did not insist on being the first governor eligible to run for re-election. In 1992, the legislature approved and voters ratified a constitutional amendment allowing governors to succeed themselves.

Jones’ relationship also was frayed with the Kentucky General Assembly, primarily due to his comments about the federal Operation Boptrot investigation that uncovered corruption in the state legislature. He called it “a cleansing process.”

Besides working to strengthen ethics laws, Jones championed health care reform, especially universal health care for all Kentucky citizens. He did not achieve that goal but did sign into law reforms aimed at making health insurance available and affordable to all Kentuckians, including those who had been priced out of the market by insurers because of their health histories or pre-existing medical conditions. Kentucky could not sustain Jones’ state health insurance reforms. But they were enacted into federal law as part of the Affordable Care Act signed by President Barack Obama in 2010.

On Aug. 7, 1992, Jones and five others were on board the state helicopter when it crashed in Shelby County. Every one survived but Jones suffered back strain and a damaged kidney.

Brereton and Libby Jones pushed during his administration for creation of a state history center. In the final year of Jones’ governorship, the legislature approved $19.5 million to design and build the Thomas D. Clark Center for Kentucky History, named after the legendary University of Kentucky history professor and author.

After serving as governor, Jones focused more on the horse industry. He founded the Kentucky Equine Education Project, a non-profit established to support the industry.

Jones also headed the Kentucky Thoroughbred Commission and was treasurer of the Breeders’ Cup. Three horses bred at his farm have won the Kentucky Oaks since 2007.

The former governor also got involved in the radio and television business, while he and his wife were strong supporters of Pioneer Playhouse in Danville.

This article is republished from the Northern Kentucky Tribune, a nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism.