John Y. Brown Jr., dashing KFC millionaire who became Kentucky governor, dies

 John Y. Brown Jr., the dashing multimillionaire who built Kentucky Fried Chicken into an international success, then won Kentucky’s governorship in a whirlwind campaign with his celebrity wife, former Miss America Phyllis George, by his side, has died. He was 88.

In a statement, Brown’s children wrote: “We are heartbroken by his passing, but find comfort in what he wrote in one of his final days: ‘I have never been so happy.’”

The children also said: “He was a true Kentucky original who beamed with pride for his home state and its people. He had many prominent accomplishments, but most of all he loved his family with all of his heart and we in turn loved him with all of our hearts.”

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

Beshear directed that flags at all state office buildings be lowered to half-staff in Brown’s honor until sunset on the day of interment. Brown will lie in state in the rotunda of the Kentucky State Capitol.

A trailblazer in the limelight with Phyllis George

Brown’s 1979 campaign for the Democratic nomination for governor destroyed the notion that candidates had to invest years of painstaking preparation before seeking the office. He demonstrated that a quick thrust, built on modern campaign techniques, could overwhelm organizational politics. 

His upstart campaign relied on a blend of personality and political technique. Using his own fortune and an array of consultants, he challenged a large field of Democrats, plunging into the race just 10 weeks before the election.  

Conventional wisdom said he had started far too late. But with his wife, Brown barnstormed by helicopter, promising to run state government like a business and market Kentucky’s potential for industrial development. 

Unlike conventional candidates, he ignored the Democratic power structure and its county chieftains, defeating Louisville Mayor Harvey Sloane by about 25,000 votes. Three other major candidates — Terry McBrayer of Lexington, U.S. Rep. Carroll Hubbard of Mayfield and Lt. Gov. Thelma Stovall of Louisville — were badly beaten. 

May 24, 1981 - Gov. John Y. Brown Jr. and his wife, Phyllis.

Brown’s electrifying victory, coming in the wake of his marriage to George, catapulted the couple into the national limelight.  “John Y. and Phyllis — Kentucky-Fried Style” read the headline on one none-too-flattering piece in New York Magazine.