A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Former Governor Brereton Jones, 84, dies after a long illness; remembered as dedicated leader

By Jack Brammer
NKyTribune reporter
Former Kentucky Gov. Brereton Jones, who emphasized healthcare reform and ethics in his administration from 1991 to 1995 and who was a major figure in the state’s horse industry, has died at the age of 84 after a long illness.

Governor Jones, official portrait

Gov. Andy Beshear announced the death late Monday on social media.

“I was sad to learn that former Governor and Lieutenant Gov. Brereton Jones has passed away,” said Beshear, a fellow Democrat. “Gov Jones was a dedicated leader and distinguished thoroughbred owner who worked to strengthen Kentucky for our families. Please join Britainy and me in praying for Libby and his family.”

Beshear noted that the Jones family has asked for privacy and that more information will be shared in the coming days. Jones has been ill for several years.

U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Louisville said, “The people of Kentucky benefited from Governor Jones’ leadership, both when he was in public office and afterward when he dedicated himself to educating Kentuckians about our state’s unique cultural heritage.

“I know his leadership and public service will continue to serve as an inspiration to us all.”

Kentucky House Speaker David Osborne, R-Prospect, said, Jones was “a good man and a fine man. He cared deeply about the people of our Commonwealth and his commitment to Kentucky remained a common thread in every aspect of his life, whether it be political, civic, business, or personal.

“One of the greatest hallmarks of his character was that he simply did not care who got the credit as long as the goal was accomplished. As governor, as well as in the three decades since leaving office, he found a way to balance progress with knowing what must be preserved. We saw it in the issues he tackled in office, as well as in his work to bring the equine industry together.”

While Kentucky lost a great leader, said Osborne, his family lost a husband, father, and friend. “I hope they find comfort in knowing that the Commonwealth is better because of his efforts.”

Kentucky House Democratic leaders – Derrick Graham, Cherlynn Stevenson and Rachel Roberts – said in a statement, “We are saddened to learn of the passing of former Gov. Brereton Jones, and extend condolences to his family.

“He served Kentucky admirably as lieutenant governor and governor, twin roles in which he left an indelible mark on the Commonwealth. He was a staunch advocate for improving health care access for all citizens; he embraced needed ethics reforms for government; he was a vocal supporter of our signature horse industry and state parks; and he helped clear the way for future constitutional offices to serve two consecutive terms.

Brereton Jones (file photo)

“There is no doubt that Kentuckians are much better off because of Governor Jones’ public service.”

Keeneland President and CEO Shanon Arvin, said Jones “was widely respected for his leadership and integrity, serving the Thoroughbred industry as a statesman and visionary and the Commonwealth of Kentucky as governor and lieutenant governor.

“His passion for horses and the land knew no bounds and culminated in his beloved Airdrie Stud, which for more than 50 years has been one of the world’s foremost breeding operations.

“He believed in racing and worked tirelessly to improve our sport as a founding member of Breeders’ Cp and the Kentucky Equine Education Project, a member of The Jockey Club, and by championing formation of the Kentucky Breeders’ Incentive Fund.

“At Keen­­­­­eland, we will remember Gov. Jones fondly as a breeder, owner, consignor ­­and a buyer of the highest caliber, and for being a valued member of ­­­our Advisory Board. We will celebrate his life and contributions, and the tremendous legacy he leaves behind.”

 Louisville businessman Chad Carlton, who covered the Jones administration for the Lexington Herald-Leader’s Frankfort bureau, said Jones was “a hard person not to like.

“He really believed he could bring people together. He was most upset when he couldn’t do that all the time. Overall, he helped restore integrity to government.”
Brereton Chandler Jones was born June 27, 1939, in Gallipolis, Ohio, and was raised in West Virginia. He was a Republican member of the West Virginia House of Delegates and served as its GOP floor leader.

Brereton Jones (file photo)

He left politics to run a real estate business. In 1970, he married Elizabeth “Libby” Jones, whose family had an estate in Kentucky’s Woodford County known as Airdrie Farm. They had two children, Lucy and Bret.

Jones and his wife founded Airdrie Stud, a prominent thoroughbred farm.

In 1975, he changed his party registration to Democrat and was appointed to several boards and commissions by the late Gov. John Y. Brown Jr. and Gov. Martha Layne Collins.

In 1987, Jones won a bid for lieutenant governor and was not shy about saying he viewed it as a stepping stone to be governor.

As lieutenant governor, he had a strained relationship with then-Gov. Wallace Wilkinson. He did not help Wilkinson reach his goal of achieving gubernatorial succession, allowing governors to succeed themselves.

That did not come until Jones was governor.

His relationship also was frayed with the Kentucky General Assembly, primarily dues to his comments about the federal Operation Boptrot investigation that uncovered corruption in the state legislature. He called it “a cleansing process.”

Lucy, Bret, Brereton and Libby Jones (Airdrie Stud website)

Besides emphasizing ethics, Jones cried out for health care reform, especially universal health care for all Kentucky citizen.

He did not get that but did achieve legislative passage of his call to prohibit insurance companies from cancelling policies due to pre-existing conditions.

In his first term in office on Aug. 7, 1992, Jones and five others were involved in a state helicopter crash in Shelby County. Every one survived but Jones suffered back strain and a damaged kidney.

After serving as governor, Jones focused more on the horse industry. He founded the Kentucky Equine Education Project, a non-profit established to support the industry.

Jones also headed the Kentucky Thoroughbred Commission and was treasurer of the Breeders’ Cup. Three horses bred at his farm have won the Kentucky Oaks since 2007.

The former governor also got involved in the radio and television business. He and his wife also were strong supporters of Pioneer Playhouse in Danville.

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One Comment

  1. Christina Noelle Ervin says:

    He was a good God fearing person . My condolences to his family and friends

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