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Former Board Chair Edward Breathitt Dies

Contact: Mary Margaret Colliver

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A Hopkinsville native, he served as Kentucky’s governor from 1963 to 1967 after serving three terms in the Kentucky General Assembly. During his years as governor, Breathitt served as chair of the UK Board of Trustees, then served separate appointive terms on the board from 1981 to 1982 and again from 1992 to 2000, chairing the board from 1992 to 1999.

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(Photos courtesy:
University Archives and Records Program,
Special Collections and Archives,
University of Kentucky Library)

Photo of young Edward T. “Ned” Breathitt Jr.

Photo of UK Law Graduate Edward T. “Ned” Breathitt Jr.

Photo fo UK Board Chair Edward T. “Ned” Breathitt Jr.

Photo of Gov. Edward T. “Ned” Breathitt Jr.

Photo of Edward T. “Ned” Breathitt Jr. cutting cake.

LEXINGTON, Ky. (Oct. 15, 2003) -- Former Kentucky Gov. Edward T. “Ned” Breathitt Jr., died at 11:51 p.m. Oct. 14 at the University of Kentucky Hospital, where he was admitted Oct. 10 after he collapsed while giving a speech at a UK Lexington Community College event. He was 78.

According to John Gurley, M.D., the governor’s cardiologist, Gov. Breathitt collapsed due to ventricular fibrillation, an abnormal heart rhythm that was not caused by a myocardial infarction (heart attack). Despite a successful resuscitation, Gov. Breathitt’s brain was deprived of oxygen. The governor arrived at the hospital in a deep coma and did not regain consciousness.

Gov. Breathitt served as chair of the University of Kentucky Board of Trustees several times over the years. Most recently, he served as chair from 1992 to 1999.

A Hopkinsville native, he served as Kentucky’s governor from 1963 to 1967 after serving three terms in the Kentucky General Assembly. During his years as governor, Breathitt served as chair of the UK Board of Trustees, then served separate appointive terms on the board from 1981 to 1982 and again from 1992 to 2000, chairing the board from 1992 to 1999.

He had retired as counsel at the Wyatt Tarrant & Combs law firm in 2002 after serving in that role since 1992.

He served in the Army Air Force from 1942 to 1945 during World War II.

Breathitt earned his bachelor’s degree in business administration in 1948 and his law degree in 1950, both at UK. He was inducted into the UK Gatton College Alumni Hall of Fame in 1994 and the UK College of Law Alumni Hall of Fame in 1997. He also was named to the UK Alumni Association’s Hall of Distinguished Alumni in 1965.

While pursuing his law degree at UK, he was president of Lamp and Cross and Omicron Delta Kappa, and a member of Sigma Alpha Epsilon social fraternity.

As an attorney with a Hopkinsville law firm, he became interested in politics and served as president of the Young Democrats Clubs of Kentucky in 1952. He was chair of the State Speaker's Bureau for Adlai Stevenson's presidential campaign in 1952, and two years later worked on the state campaign staff in former Vice President Alben Barkley's successful bid for re-election to the U. S. Senate.

Prior to his election to the governorship of Kentucky in 1963, he was elected to three terms in the Kentucky General Assembly (1952-58), and was a member of the
Governor's Commission on Mental Health and the State Public Service Commission.
He also served as state personnel commissioner. As a legislator, he co-sponsored the Minimum Foundation Program for Education.

During his term as governor (1963-67), he was named to the executive committee of the National Governors' Conference and was chair of its Natural Resources Committee. He and his administration received numerous awards, including: a Lincoln Key Award (1966) for leadership in passage of state civil rights bill; Society of Industrial Investors' top award (1964) for the best industrial development program; Midwest Travel Writer's Association's top national award (1965) for the best travel promotion; U. S. Department of Interior Distinguished Service Award (1967) for contributions to conservation; and Conservationist of the Year Award (1967) from Outdoor Life magazine. At the Democratic National Convention in 1964, he made the seconding speech for President Lyndon Johnson.

Breathitt was also governor when the Kentucky General Assembly created the University of Kentucky Community College System in 1964. He was chair of the UK Board of Trustees when the community college system, except for Lexington Community College, was placed under the Kentucky Community and Technical College System in 1997.

After returning to private law practice in 1967, he became special counsel in Kentucky for Southern Railway in December 1967. In 1968, he was named director of the Institute for Rural America, funded by the Ford Foundation, and later that year was appointed federal representative on the Southern Interstate Nuclear Board. In 1971 he was elected chair of the Coalition for Rural America. He became vice president for public affairs for Southern Railway in 1972.

A Methodist and a former Sunday School teacher, he also has been a Jaycee, Kiwanian, Elk, a director of the Hopkinsville Chamber of Commerce, a director of the Home Loan Bank of Cincinnati, and chair of the Kentucky Heart Fund campaign.

He is survived by his wife, Lucy Alexander Breathitt; three daughters, Mary Fran Breathitt, Linda Key Breathitt and Susan Breathitt Brickman; and a son, Edward T. Breathitt III.

Funeral arrangements for Gov. Edward T. “Ned” Breathitt are completed.

A memorial service for Gov. Breathitt will be held from 11 to 11:30 a.m. Friday, Oct. 17, in the Capitol rotunda. Prior to the service his body will lie in state from 9 to 11 a.m. and from 11:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. afterwards. A funeral service will be held in Breathitt’s hometown of Hopkinsville at noon (CDT) Saturday, Oct. 18, at the First United Methodist Church. Burial will take place at the Riverside Cemetery.


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