Tom Emberton, former Kentucky appeals court judge and gubernatorial candidate, dies in fire after heroically getting his wife to safety

Tom Emberton, a former Kentucky appeals court judge and Republican gubernatorial candidate, died in an early Thursday morning house fire after helping his wife to safety, the Associated Press reports.

tom emberton

Emberton, 90, got his wife safely away from the flames before reentering the burning home. He never made it back out.

“He heroically rescued his wife and got her to safety. Then he went back in to save his home and lost his life,” Edmonton Mayor Doug Smith, who was longtime friends with the former judge, told affiliate WBKO. “Tom was just the greatest guy in the world to be around. He was infectious to everybody. He had a way about him that was really special.”

Smith said the fire was accidental, and Emberton’s death was announced by Kentucky Chief Justice John D. Minton Jr. during his State of the Judiciary on Thursday, per the AP.

WBKO reports that Emberton and his wife Julia were married 65 years, and shared daughter Laura Emberton Owens and son Tom Emberton Jr.

Emberton unsuccessfully ran for Kentucky governor in 1971 and was appointed to the Court of Appeals in 1987. He was reelected to that position twice and also took on the role of chief judge of the appellate court before retiring in 2004, U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell shared in a statement.

“Tom was a model gentleman, a devoted husband, and a wonderful father, grandfather, and great-grandfather,” McConnell’s statement continued. “Our prayers are with Julia Lee, their children Laura and Tom Jr., their five grandchildren, and the entire Emberton family in this difficult time.”

McConnell also shared in his statement that Emberton gave him some early political experience when he tapped him to help with the 1971 gubernatorial campaign, which McConnell called an early taste of “the rough and tumble reality of political campaigning.”

Emberton, who was also an alum of Western Kentucky University and was inducted into the WKU Hall of Distinguished Alumni in 2016, was recognized by many state officials as they shared tributes and extended their thoughts and prayers to his family on Twitter. Peers called him a “wonderful man,” “dedicated public servant,” and “a true gentleman.”

“I wish to extend my heartfelt prayers and condolences to the Emberton family & the entire Edmonton & Metcalfe Co community on the tragic passing of Tom Emberton,” Kentucky state Sen. Max Wise wrote. “Judge Emberton was a true gentleman & statesman who left an amazing political legacy in KY politics & public service.”

Mayor Smith added that his friend was also a “friend to many and always a champion of South Central Ky,” who was full of “wisdom, kindness and always sage advice.”

Last year, another fire in the state of Kentucky led to the deaths of 25 dogs at Doggy Style Kennels in Bardstown. Owner Ron Kraemer wrote on Facebook that only one dog made it out alive, and 18 of those that died in the fire were puppies.

“To my clients and friends, I came home from town today with a load of dog food to find my kennels in flames,” Kraemer wrote alongside a video of the fire. “I have lost all my dogs and puppies except for Candy that somehow pushed her way through the gate.”

GoFundMe was eventually set up to help Kraemer “rebuild his dream and pay for the medical care for the one surviving dog who lost her litter.” In the last year, it passed its $5,000 goal and earned over $8,500. These days, the business is still up and running, uploading photos of pups to its Facebook page regularly.