History of Kentucky Governors

Kentucky Governors and Elections


                           LAWRENCE W. WETHERBY

                                                            LAWRENCE W. WETHERBY


November 27, 1950 to December 13, 1955


January 2, 1908 to March 27, 1994

            The 1947 Democratic Ticket for Governor and Lt. Governor could be considered “The All-Kentucky Football Ticket” with UK Letterman Earle Clements for Governor and U of L Letterman Lawrence W. Wetherby for Lt. Governor.  Lawrence Wetherby as a student at the University of Louisville played football and baseball.  His football prowess was so good, he was inducted into the U of L Football Hall of Fame.

            Lawrence W. Wetherby as Lt. Governor became Governor of Kentucky when Earle Clements resigned after being elected to the U.S. Senate.

            Wetherby has the distinction of being the only Kentucky Governor born in the Commonwealth’s largest county (by population) Jefferson.

            Prior to becoming the 45th person to serve as Kentucky governor, Lawrence Wetherby graduated from Anchorage High School and the University of Louisville Law School where he received a L.L.B. degree in 1929.  The following year, on April 24, 1930, he married Helen Dwyer; the couple had three children.  They had three children including two daughters –Suzanne and Barbara who survived him when he died in 1994.

            Wetherby practiced law and served as a trial commissioner and judge for the Jefferson Juvenile Court until he resigned to run for Lt Governor in 1947.  Wetherby was elected Lt Governor with Earle Clements as governor in 1947.

            Clements made Wetherby the “first working” Lt Governor by preparing budgets, attending Southern Governors’ Conferences and presiding over the Legislative Research Commission. 

            When Clements won the Senate seat in 1950, Wetherby became governor.  In 1951, Wetherby sought and won a full four year term as governor.

            As there was significant illegal gambling in Henderson and Campbell Counties in the 1950s, Wetherby used the state police into these counties to make raids.  In 1952, Wetherby supported legislation which permitted the revocation of liquor licenses of proprietors who permitted illegal gambling.

            At the 1952 Kentucky Derby, Wetherby refused to meet or be photographed with Wisconsin Senator Joseph McCarthy.   (pp. 108-109 of the “Public Papers of Governor Lawrence W. Wetherby (1950 to 1955).


            Wetherby regarded the creation of the Department of Mental Health and the establishment of the Youth Authority to care for juvenile offenders as his two most important accomplishments of his administration.

            In 1954-1955, Lawrence Wetherby served as Chairman of the Southern Governor’s Conference.  As chair, Wetherby urged his fellow governors to accept the Supreme Court’s decision to desegregate public schools in Brown v. Board of Education.

            In 1954, Wetherby approved measures which increased taxes on alcoholic beverages, cigarettes and pari-mutual gambling.

            Less than a year after he left the Kentucky Governor’s Office, U.S. Senator Alben Barkley suddenly died while giving a speech at Mock Convention at Washington and Lee University in Virginia on April 30, 1956.  Due to the time of Barkley’s unexpected death, there was not a primary to fill Barkley’s seat.  The Kentucky Democratic Party’s State Central Committee nominated Wetherby to fill the remainder of Barkley’s term in the November 1956 General Election.  The Republican’s nominated John Sherman Cooper the man Barkley defeated in the November 1954 General Election. 

            Unfortunately for Wetherby, incumbent Governor Happy Chandler did not support Wetherby’s bid for the U.S. Senate against Cooper or Senator Clements bid for re-election in November 1956.  Chandler’s refusal to support both Wetherby and Clements in their respective senate contests were due in part to the fact both Wetherby and Clements supported Bert Combs over Chandler in the 1955 Democratic Gubernatorial Primary.

            Matters were even worse for Kentucky’s Democratic U.S. Senate candidates in 1956, when Senate Majority Leader Lyndon B. Johnson had a heart attack.  Senate Assistant Majority Leader (and KY Senator) Earle Clements had to fill in for Johnson throughout the summer and fall of 1956.  As a result, Clements was unable to spend much time campaigning in Kentucky which impacted both the Clements re-election campaign and Wetherby’s campaign against John Sherman Cooper.  This was compounded by Eisenhower landslide of ’56.  Eisenhower carried Kentucky by over 9% over Democrat Adlai Stevenson and with that John Sherman Cooper defeated Wetherby.  (Clements was defeated by Thurston Morton.)

            After the 1956 election, Wetherby moved to Franklin County where he practiced law and became a consultant to Brighton Engineering.  In 1965, Governor was elected to the Kentucky State Senate.  He served as president pro tempore during one session of his term. 

            Wetherby died of complications of a broken hip in Frankfort on March 27, 1994.  He is buried in the Frankfort Cemetery.

             The Administration Building at Western Kentucky University is named for Wetherby.