Wendell Hampton Ford (September 8, 1924 â January 22, 2015) was an American politician from the Commonwealth of Kentucky. He served for twenty-four years in the U.S. Senate and was the 53rd Governor of Kentucky. He was the first person to be successively elected lieutenant governor, governor and United States senator in Kentucky history. The Senate Democratic whip from 1991 to 1999, he was considered the leader of the state's Democratic Party from his election to governor in 1971 until his retirement from the Senate in 1999. At the time of his retirement, he was the longest-serving senator in Kentucky's history.
Born in Daviess County, Kentucky, Ford graduated from Daviess County High School in 1942 then attended the University of Kentucky. His studies were interrupted by his service in World War II. After the war, he graduated from the Maryland School of Insurance and returned to Kentucky to help his father with the family insurance business. He also continued his military service in the Kentucky Army National Guard.
He worked on the gubernatorial campaign of Bert T. Combs in 1959, and became Combs' executive assistant when Combs was elected governor. Encouraged to run for the Kentucky Senate by Combs' ally and successor, Ned Breathitt, Ford won the seat and served one four-year term before running for lieutenant governor in 1967. He was elected on a split ticket with Republican Louie B. Nunn. Four years later, Ford defeated Combs in an upset in the Democratic primary en route to the governorship.
Kentucky State Senator
Lieutenant Governor under Louie Nunn from 1967 until 1971
53rd Governor of Kentucky from 1971 until 1974
Senator from Kentucky from 1974 until 1999
Senate Majority Whip from 1991 until 1995
Senate Minority Whip from 1995 until 1999