Wendell Ford remembered by political colleagues

The former Kentucky governor and United States senator died Jan. 22, 2015 at age 90

From the Bluegrass to the Beltway and beyond, politicians on both sides of the aisle are remembering former Kentucky Governor and Sen. Wendell Hampton Ford, who died Jan. 22, 2015 at age 90 following an approximately six-month battle with lung cancer.

Some of those remarks are compiled here.

Barack Obama

Democratic President Barack Obama remembered Wendell Ford in a statement released by the White House.

A veteran, businessman, governor and four-term senator, Wendell dedicated his life to the people of Kentucky. He believed deeply in fairness — everyone doing their part, everyone getting a fair shot.

A formidable political strategist, he fought to make sure all Americans had equal access to the polls, championed paying workers a decent wage and extending a helping hand to those looking for work, and mentored scores of young people who entered public service with Wendell’s advice and support.

Few in politics were as admired as he, and few have had as great an impact on his beloved Kentucky. Wendell leaves behind an extraordinary legacy of service, and a Commonwealth and country that are stronger and fairer thanks to him.

— Barack Obama

Joe Biden

Vice President Joe Biden, a former Democratic senator from Delaware who served alongside Ford for his entire 24-year Senate career, also remembered Ford in a statement released by the White House.

He was one of the most effective legislative leaders I’ve ever worked with throughout my entire career. His philosophy was summed up when he said, “Why make a speech when you can sit down with your colleagues and work something out?”

He always took care of Kentucky, but never lost sight of the fact that he represented all of America.

During Wendell’s time in the Senate, he helped bring greater transparency to government, greater safety to the airlines, and greater access to the polls.

It was thanks to his leadership as [Senate majority] whip that the Violence Against Women Act passed in 1994 as part of the Biden Crime Bill, changing the lives of so many women and men in this country and around the world.

On a personal note, Sen. Ford has been an important part of our family for a long time. He gave Sara Jones Biden, from Owensboro, Ky., her first job on the Hill when she graduated from Duke Law School, and that’s how she met my brother Jimmy.

Last May, Jill had the honor of speaking at Owensboro Community College in Wendell’s hometown, and it was clear that his legacy will long outlive him in Owensboro, in Kentucky, and across the United States.

Wendell was an extremely effective senator and a great personal friend whose advice I sought long after he had left the Senate. I will miss him. — Joe Biden

Mitch McConnell

Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell remembered Ford in a Jan. 23, 2015 speech on the floor of the United States Senate. Elected in 1984, McConnell was Kentucky’s junior senator during the latter part of Ford’s Senate career, going on to eclipse him in 2009 as the longest-serving senator in Kentucky’s history.

Wendell Ford first came to the Senate in the 1970s, calling himself “just a dumb country boy with dirt between his toes.” But over a distinguished, two-decade career, this workhorse of the Senate would prove he was anything but.

I had the opportunity to watch my Senate colleague up close as he ascended to leadership in his party and established himself as a leader on issues of importance to my state. A proud Kentuckian who rose from page in the state House to governor of the state, Ford shaped the history of the commonwealth in ways few others had before him.

He never forgot the lessons about hard work he learned while milking cows or tending to chores on the family farm, and this World War II veteran never backed down from a fight, either. We imagine he approached his final battle with the same spirit. — Mitch McConnell


Rand Paul

Republican Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul was elected to the Senate seat once held by Ford. Paul released a statement via his political action committee, RANDPAC.

Wendell Ford loved Kentucky deeply. He served the Commonwealth and its people for decades with honor and purpose. I am honored to sit behind the same desk and serve in the same seat as Sen. Ford, a man so dedicated to his party, our state and this country. — Rand Paul

Bill Clinton

President Bill Clinton, the sitting president when Ford retired from the Senate, released a statement via the Clinton Foundation.

He was a fine man and a great senator who knew how to get things done for Kentucky families, often by reaching across the aisle.

We worked together for many years. I relied heavily on his advice and support, especially when the outcome was unclear, the stakes were high, and the vote was close.

I’ll always be grateful that Wendell walked me out to my second inauguration. He was a devout believer in the power of good government to bring opportunity and prosperity to everyone.

He had just the right balance of toughness and compassion, good humor and serious purpose. He leaves a legion of friends who wish every Congress had a few more members like him. — Bill Clinton

Julian Carroll

State Sen. Julian Carroll, who succeeded Ford as governor of Kentucky, released this statement (via WDRB-TV):

My heart is heavy today at the loss of my fellow governor, Sen. Wendell Ford. He was a true public servant, who always put the people first, and was a mentor to so many young politicians.

I had known Wendell since he ran for the state Senate, having been elected to the House that same year, 1962. Later, I managed his campaign in McCracken County for his race as lieutenant governor and secured a margin of victory for him equal to more than three times the amount he won by.

In 1971, I ran for lieutenant governor on a ticket with former Gov. Bert T. Combs and joined Wendell in the fall campaign at which time we were both elected as governor and lieutenant governor.

Wendell encouraged me to run for the U.S. Senate, but after several weeks of discussion, he decided to run himself. My relationship with Wendell Ford has been long-standing and his passing is indeed a powerful moment for me and for Kentucky, but he had a good life.

I offer my deepest condolences to his wife Jean, all his family and his many, many friends. Today is a sad day for all Kentuckians. We truly lost one of our greatest sons.— Julian Carroll

Unable to reach

Thus far, I’ve been unable to obtain a statement from the following list of Ford’s former political colleagues:

Al Gore

Former Vice President Al Gore, previously a Democratic Senator from Tennessee who served alongside Ford in the Senate from 1985 to 1993. As sitting vice president, Gore spoke at Ford’s 1998 retirement dinner. I e-mailed the Gore camp on Jan. 22, 2015 and have not yet received a response.

Dan Quayle

Former Vice President Dan Quayle, who presided over the Senate while Ford was Democratic whip. Before that, Quayle served across the aisle from Ford as a Republican senator from Indiana. I wasn’t able to reach Quayle spokeswoman Kathleen Murphy in time for this story.

Billy Suratt

Billy Suratt is a Mid-South photojournalist and Kentucky writer. He enjoys long walks on beaches, short walks through parking lots and shooting football by candlelight. Follow him on Twitter, but please not through any parking lots.

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