Former Kentucky Gov. John Y. Brown dies at 88

Brown rose to prominence in the 1960s after being part of a group that purchased Kentucky Fried Chicken from founder Colonel Harland Sanders for $2 million, and he was married to former Miss America Phyllis George.

Updated: November 22, 2022 - 11:48pm

John Y. Brown Jr., a businessman who became the 55th governor of Kentucky, has died. He was 88.

Brown, a Democrat, served as governor from 1979 to 1983. At that time, he was married to former Miss America Phyllis George. But his history in the Bluegrass State was more profound than just the four years he led it.

The son and namesake of a former state lawmaker and U.S. representative, Brown rose to prominence in the 1960s after being part of an investment group that purchased Kentucky Fried Chicken from founder Colonel Harland Sanders for $2 million.

The company grew into an international giant, and seven years after the acquisition, it was sold for $285 million.

Brown also dabbled in owning sports franchises. He and his first wife owned the Kentucky Colonels for the last three years of the American Basketball Association team’s existence. It won the 1975 league championship but folded a year later when the ABA merged with the National Basketball Association. Brown then owned the NBA’s Buffalo Braves (now the Los Angeles Clippers) and the Boston Celtics before venturing into politics.

"Gov. Brown was a remarkable leader who was committed to serving the people of Kentucky," Gov. Andy Beshear said in a statement Tuesday. "He made our commonwealth a better place. Britainy and I are praying for his family and loved ones.”

A statement from Brown’s family members, provided by Beshear's office, said they were “heartbroken by his passing” but added he had indicated he was as happy as he ever was in his final days.

“Our dad, John Y. Brown Jr., not only dreamed the impossible dream, he lived it until the very end,” the children’s statement read. “His positive attitude and zest for life was unrivaled and allowed him to beat the odds many times over. Every day was an exciting adventure for him. He was a true Kentucky original who beamed with pride for his home state and its people.”

When Brown served, Kentucky governors could not run for re-election. After leaving office in 1983, he sought it again in 1987. However, he finished second to eventual Gov. Wallace Wilkinson in a seven-way race that featured former Gov. Julian Carroll and future Gov. Steve Beshear.

Brown was married three times. His five children include John Y. Brown III, a former secretary of state in Kentucky, and Pamela Brown, a Washington correspondent for CNN.

Gov. Andy Beshear said Brown will lie in state in the Capitol rotunda in Frankfort, with more details to be announced. Flags at state buildings will also fly at half-staff to honor the former governor through the day he is laid to rest.

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