Wendell H. Ford

Painting by: Austin Sovar, Statesmanship Class of 2019

Wendell Hampton Ford was born in Owensboro, Kentucky to Ernest and Irene Ford on September 8. 1924.

A 1942 graduate of Daviess County High School, Wendell Ford attended the University of Kentucky before serving in the United States Army from 1944-1946, during World War II. After the war, he graduated from Maryland School of Insurance and returned to Kentucky to help his father with the family insurance business, while continuing to serve in the Kentucky National Guard until 1962.

In 1954, Wendell H. Ford became the first Kentuckian to serve as national president of the of the U.S. Jaycees and later served as Jaycees International Vice President.

Public service continued its call to Ford, who served as chief assistant to Kentucky Governor Bert Combs from 1959-1961, before running and winning a seat in the Kentucky Senate. He continued to serve his term in the State Senate until being elected Lieutenant Governor in 1967 on a split ticket with Republican Louis B. Nunn.

Wendell H. Ford became the Commonwealth of Kentucky’s 49th Governor on December 7, 1971 and quickly focused on making state government more efficient.

When he was elected as a Democrat to the United States Senate in November 1974, Wendell Ford became the first Kentuckian to have been elected State Senator, Lieutenant Governor, Governor and United States Senator.

While in the United States Senate, Wendell Ford shaped such legislation as the National Voter Registration Act, the Federal Aviation Administration Authorization Act of 1994, the Family and Medical Leave Act, the National Energy Security Act of 1992, the Aviation Safety and Capacity Act of 1990, the Airport and Airways Capacity Expansion Act of 1987, the Age Discrimination Act in Employment Act Amendments of 1986, the Tobacco Reform Act of 1985, the Energy Security Act of 1977 and the Surface Mining and Reclamation act of the same year.

Ford Served on the joint Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies from 1985-1997, and served as the Chairman for the Inauguration of President George H.W. Bush in 1989 and President William Jefferson Clinton’s first inauguration in 1993. While his party recognized his abilities and rewarded him with both Majority and Minority Whip positions, Senator Ford was best known as a “constituent’s Senator,” a reflection of his service to the people of Kentucky.”

Upon his retirement in 1999, Senator Ford established the Wendell H. Ford Government Education Center. Funded solely by donations, the Center welcomed former President Bill Clinton to Owensboro for a special fundraising dinner and speech in 2013. Upon Senator Ford’s death in 2015, his family, friends, and supporters were honored to be joined at his funeral by former President Clinton and then Vice-President Joe Biden who offered moving tributes to the Senator. The government education center continues to offer unique programming to area high school students interested in government service.