Former KY Gov. Brereton Jones, avid horseman and ethics-focused politician, dies at 84

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Former Kentucky Gov. Brereton Jones has died, according to a statement released by the office of Gov. Andy Beshear on Monday. He was 84 years old.

“I was sad to learn that former Governor and Lt. Gov. Brereton Jones has passed away. Gov. Jones was a dedicated leader and a distinguished thoroughbred owner who worked to strengthen Kentucky for our families. Please join Britainy and me in praying for Libby and his family,” Beshear posted on X, formerly known as Twitter, on Monday.

Jones, a Democrat, was the 58th governor of Kentucky. He served from 1991 to 1995 and was lieutenant governor under Wallace Wilkinson before taking the state’s top office.

One of Jones’ top achievements as governor for one term — at that point in time, governors could only serve for one term — was pushing to change the constitution to allow statewide elected officials to run for re-election to a second term. When that amendment was passed, it exempted current officeholders like himself.

Jones’ tenure followed that of the late former governor Wallace Wilkinson. He was succeeded by his lieutenant governor, Paul Patton.

Then-Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton and Kentucky Gov. Brereton Jones greeted diners at Flynn’s Restaurant and Statesman Lounge in Frankfort, Feb. 4, 1992. Jennifer Podis | staff
Then-Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton and Kentucky Gov. Brereton Jones greeted diners at Flynn’s Restaurant and Statesman Lounge in Frankfort, Feb. 4, 1992. Jennifer Podis | staff

Prominent Democrats in the state heaped praise on Jones for his commitment to ethics as governor, noting that his move to exempt himself from the succession amendment was an example of selflessness not often seen in politicians.

“That took the politics and partisanship out of it. That unselfish decision got us gubernatorial succession,” former Democratic treasurer Jonathan Miller said.

Jones’ election was the first campaign Miller worked on, and Miller’s mother authored the former governor’s gubernatorial papers.

His gubernatorial regime was really a restoration of ethics. The Wilkinson administration was really challenged on a lot of corruption grounds, and that was a pattern for years in Kentucky politics,” Miller said. “He put together one of the strongest codes of ethics in the country.”

Part of that was the creation of the Executive Branch Ethics Commission, on which former Democratic auditor and lieutenant governor Crit Luallen currently serves.

Luallen also spoke highly of Jones’ character. Under his administration, Luallen was secretary of the Kentucky Tourism Cabinet as well as Secretary of the Finance and Administration Cabinet.

“He set a new standard for ethical behavior in the executive branch that remains to this day,” Luallen said.

Adam Edelen, a former Democratic auditor in the 2010s, said Jones was “one of the good guys,” leaving a mark on Edelen as a young man.

Jones hand-wrote a glowing letter about Edelen, then a leader in the Kentucky Youth Assembly, and sent it to his mother. Later, Edelen interned under Patton.

“He was a gentleman to his core. He was an ethical guy that ran a straight-up administration,” Edelen said. “It’s the kindness that I’ll never forget. He was a deeply thoughtful guy, and I think he and his wife Libby represented the best of Kentucky.”

FILE: Brereton Jones at Churchill Downs on Sunday April 27, 2008 in Louisville, Ky.
FILE: Brereton Jones at Churchill Downs on Sunday April 27, 2008 in Louisville, Ky.

Jones also left a mark on current Republican statewide officeholder Secretary of State Michael Adams.

“I was fortunate to attend Boys State in 1993 and hear Governor Jones urge us 17-year-olds, regardless of party, to consider public service. I took him up on it, and am grateful for his contributions to our Commonwealth as well as his positive example as a political leader,” Adams posted to social media.

Republican candidate for governor Attorney General Daniel Cameron also offered his condolences.

“Makenze and I join a grieving Commonwealth in mourning the loss of Governor Brereton C. Jones. Please join us in praying for Libby and the Jones family as we honor the life and legacy of the 58th Governor of Kentucky,” Cameron wrote on X.

House Democratic Caucus leaders said Jones left an “indelible mark” on the commonwealth. “He was a staunch advocate for improving healthcare 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 officers to serve two consecutive terms,” Reps. Derrick Graham, Cherlynn Stevenson and Rachel Roberts said in a statement. “There is no doubt that Kentuckians are much better off because of Governor Jones’ public service.”

Kentucky State Trooper Gregg Muravchick videotaped the wreckage of Governor Brererton Jones’ helicopter on August 7, 1992 in Shelby County. The 12 year-old Sikorsky helicopter went down on a steep hillside near Interstate 64 and skidded into a locust tree. Photo by Ron Garrison | Staff
Kentucky State Trooper Gregg Muravchick videotaped the wreckage of Governor Brererton Jones’ helicopter on August 7, 1992 in Shelby County. The 12 year-old Sikorsky helicopter went down on a steep hillside near Interstate 64 and skidded into a locust tree. Photo by Ron Garrison | Staff

Early in his tenure, Jones was injured when the state helicopter crashed flying from Frankfort to Ft. Knox. He was hospitalized for two days with a back injury.

Jones was also an entrepreneur in the horse industry and was deeply involved in the trade before and after his governorship.

The former governor moved to Kentucky and changed his political affiliation to Democrat in the 1970s, leaving his post as a member of the House of Delegates in West Virginia to move to a farm owned by the family of his wife, Libby Jones. That farm later became Airdrie Stud, an impressive operation according to Evan Hammonds, former editor of the Blood Horse.

“It’s very difficult to be a singular player in the stallion game, with the likes of Winstar and Godolphin around, but they developed some really key stallions, and they were exceptional breeders to their own stallions and very successful at the sales.”

Their homebreds won the Kentucky Oaks three times since 2007 — Proud Spell in 2008, Believe You Can in 2012 and Lovely Maria in 2015.

Former Kentucky Governor Brereton C. Jones raised the Oaks trophy with former Louisville Mayor Jerry Abramson , right, and former first lady Libby Jones at his side after winning the 138th running of the Kentucky Oaks at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky. on Friday May 4, 2012. Photo by Mark Cornelison | Staff
Former Kentucky Governor Brereton C. Jones raised the Oaks trophy with former Louisville Mayor Jerry Abramson , right, and former first lady Libby Jones at his side after winning the 138th running of the Kentucky Oaks at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky. on Friday May 4, 2012. Photo by Mark Cornelison | Staff

Hammonds said he would sometimes run into Jones at the Keeneland sales or at the Versailles Kroger, and it was always a pleasure.

“He was fantastic to talk to, always very cordial, both in talking about horses, and in talking about politics. Very personable, a real salt of the earth kind of guy.”