University of Kentucky alumni have gone on to do great things. Although neither of the current gubernatorial candidates are graduates of UK, there have been several notable governors in the history of the university that have received degrees from Kentucky, including:
Much of the sourcing from this article is from information from the National Governor's Association.
J. C. W. Beckham
John Clepps Wilkliffe Beckham became the 35th governor of Kentucky, making him the first graduate of UK to serve the position. His governorship began in 1900 after serving as lieutenant governor to William Goebel, who was assassinated early on in his term.
Hailing from Nelson County outside of Bardston, Ky., Beckham has governmental history in his family. His grandfather was governor of Kentucky from 1839 to 1840, and his uncle served a term as governor of Louisiana.
Beckham graduated from the University of Kentucky with a degree in law in 1889. Before attending UK, he studied at Central University (present-day Eastern Kentucky University) but did not graduate. He then went on to serve as the principal of Bardstown public schools. After graduating, he was admitted to the bar and practiced law in Bardstown. On the side, he was president of the Young Democrats Club of Nelson County.
As governor, he desired for most of his policies to be non-controversial, so he focused a lot of efforts on improving infrastructure and the public education system. Few major pieces of legislation beyond Beckham’s passive leadership were passed, including a new tax that added half a million dollars to state revenue and a child labor law prohibiting children under the age of 14 from working without parental consent.
Although the Kentucky Constitution of the time prohibited people from serving two terms as governor, since Beckham was sworn in after the governor’s term had started, he was allowed to run again and was elected for a second term.
Albert B. Chandler (44th and 49th governor)
Albert Benjamin “Happy” Chandler served non-consecutively as Kentucky’s 44th and 49th governor. He first became governor in 1935 and served until 1939, and then was again elected in 1955 and served until 1959.
Chandler was born in Corydon, Ky. After high school, he enrolled at Transylvania College (present-day Transylvania University) and played basketball, baseball and football. After exploring a short minor league baseball career, Chandler wanted to pursue law and enrolled at Harvard Law School. Not able to afford Harvard for much longer, Chandler returned to Lexington where he enrolled at the University of Kentucky College of Law.
While studying law, Chandler coached high school sports in nearby Versailles, served as the head coach of the UK women’s basketball team and was an assistant coach and scout for freshman football at Centre College. He was also part of the law school honor society, Order of the Coif. After graduating with his law degree, he was admitted to the bar and opened his own practice in Versailles, practicing law for the next five years.
Before being elected governor, Chandler served as the Chairman of the Woodford Democratic Committee, master commissioner of the Woodford County circuit court, a senator for the Kentucky Senate and lieutenant governor under Ruby Laffoon.
As governor, Chandler fought against many taxes that hurt Kentucky families during the Great Depression and afterwards. After serving his first term, he went to the U.S. Senate to serve Kentucky from a national level.
Beyond his political life, Chandler also served as the head of Major League Baseball, officially called the Commissioner of Baseball, and was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. The Albert B. Chandler Hospital on South Limestone is named in his honor.
Edward Thompson Breathitt Jr., a Hopkinsville native and two-time graduate of UK (business administration and later law school) served Kentucky as its 51st governor.
Before arriving at UK, Breathitt enlisted in the U.S. Air Force, where he actively fought in World War II until the war ended in 1945. At UK, he was involved in Sigma Alpha Epsilon and was president of Omicron Delta Kappa honor society.
After graduating from law school, Breathitt served three consecutive terms in the Kentucky House of Representatives, openly opposing the policies of Gov. Chandler at the time. When he was elected governor in 1963, he tried to pass a new constitution for the state but it was never ratified.
The biggest accomplishment that Breathitt had in his time as governor was the passage of the Kentucky Civil Rights Act, which became the first desegregation law passed by a southern state.
John Y. Brown
John Young Brown Jr. is a famous businessman from Lexington, known for turning Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) into a multi-million dollar brand. He served as the 55th governor of Kentucky from 1979 to 1983.
Throughout high school and college, Brown was constantly running his own small businesses. He attended UK for business and for law, and made over $25,000 each year in law school selling encyclopedia sets. To help push sales even further, he hired his own classmates onto a sales crew, information from the Phi Delta Theta national website shows.
After earning his law degree, he practiced under his father and served in the United State Army Reserve.
As Kentucky fell into an economic crisis, Brown entered the political realm and promised to run the state like a successful business so the economy would improve. He beat incumbent candidate Louie B. Nunn in the general election.
Throughout the 1970s, Young also owned at various times the American Basketball Association’s Kentucky Colonels, the National Basketball Association’s Boston Celtics and the Buffalo Braves (currently the Los Angeles Clippers).
Martha Layne Collins
Martha Layne Collins is the first and only-to-date woman to ever serve as Kentucky’s governor. She was the 56th person to take the office after serving as lieutenant governor under Brown. At the time of her election, she was the highest-ranking democratic woman in the U.S.
Collins was born in Bagdad, KY but moved to Shelbyville at a young age. In high school, she was described as a good student, a pageant queen and a cheerleader. After graduating, Collins attended an all-girls college in Missouri for a year before transferring to UK, according to information from the UK Alumni Association.
At UK, Collins was a sister of the Chi Omega sorority and was also active in the Baptist Student Union, home economics club and was president of her dorm and vice president of the house presidents council.
After graduating, Collins taught at Seneca and Fairdale high schools while her husband was finishing dentistry school. After he had graduated, the two moved to Versailles where Collins taught at Woodford County Junior High and became active in several civic organizations such as the Young Democratic Couples Club while working on political campaigns.
Before being named governor, Collins served as president of the Jaycettes, Clerk for the Kentucky Court of Appeals (present-day Kentucky Supreme Court) and was named the 1976 Woman of achievement by the Woodford County chapter of Business and Professional Women.
After serving as lieutenant governor under Brown, she ran in the 1983 gubernatorial election and edged out two very popular candidates in the general election.
One of the few governors that most current UK students remember serving in their lifetime is 61st governor Steven Lynn Beshear.
Beshear grew up in the small town of Dawson Springs, KY. He graduated from his high school as valedictorian before attending UK to receive his bachelor’s degree in history. While an undergrad, Beshear was a brother of Delta Tau Delta, a member of Phi Beta Kappa honor society, and served as both treasurer and president of the student body. Beshear was also heavily involved in church. Shortly after receiving his undergraduate degree, he attended the UK College of Law where he graduated with honors.
After getting married and having children, one which is the current Attorney General and democratic candidate for governor Andy Beshear, Steve Beshear moved to New York City to practice law for a few years before returning to Kentucky.
Once he got into politics, Beshear was elected to represent Fayette County in the Kentucky House of Representatives, where he gained the reputation of a consumer advocate. He then shifted to serving as Attorney General as well as lieutenant governor under Collins.
Beshear first ran for governor in 1987 and came in third. After his defeat, he spent almost a decade away from politics. In 1995, he returned to the public eye as he challenged Republican Mitch McConnell for his senate seat.
After again failing to be elected against McConnell in the race for senate, Beshear’s next major political move happened in 2007 when he challenged incumbent governor Ernie Fletcher for his seat. This time, Beshear had a landslide victory and was even re-elected in 2011.
These are many other important leaders that Kentucky has seen that have come out of UK. The list is completed with Augustus Owsley Stanley (38th), William Fields (41st), Keen Johnson (45th), Earle Clements (47th), Bert Combs (50th), Julian Carroll (54th), Paul E. Patton (59th) and Ernie Fletcher (60th).