Former Kentucky Gov. Julian Carroll dies at 92

Published 11:50 am Tuesday, December 12, 2023

By McKenna Horsley and Jack Brammer

Kentucky Lantern

Former Kentucky Gov. Julian Morton Carroll, who focused as the state’s 54th governor from 1974 to 1979 on providing more money to education, initiating judicial reforms and promoting the coal industry, died at 4:46 a.m Sunday at the Frankfort Regional Medical Center. He was 92.

Email newsletter signup

Carroll, a Democrat, died at the center after falling at his wooded home in Franklin County where he had been on limited hospice care for about six months.

A friend of the family, David Cobb, said funeral information is expected to be released Monday from Harrod Brothers Funeral Home in Frankfort. The governor is expected to lie in state in the Capitol Rotunda and be eulogized by Democrats and Republicans.

In a statement, his family highlighted the political career of the former Democratic governor and lawmaker, noting Carroll “dedicated almost two-thirds of his life to being a committed public servant to this great Commonwealth of Kentucky.”

“Although we knew we were sharing our father with the people of this state for all the right reasons, there were times we missed him very much,” the Carroll family said.

“As a family, it is with the heaviest of hearts that we grieve the loss of our beloved father, grandfather and great-grandfather. His steadfast faith and positive outlook on life, his untenable and constant love for his family, and his giving heart and warm embrace will forever be missed. Something about his gentle blue eyes and big smile will leave an everlasting imprint on our hearts. We will love and miss him always.”

As lieutenant governor, Carroll succeeded former Gov. Wendell Ford in 1974, who left office for the U.S. Senate before his term ended. Carroll was elected as governor in 1975.

Carroll also had other roles in Frankfort. He had five terms in the Kentucky House of Representatives, and was speaker of the House from 1968 to 1970. He was a member of the Senate from 2004 to 2020.

“Former Gov. Julian Carroll dedicated his career to public service,” Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear said on X, formerly Twitter. “For decades he worked to support public education and those he represented in Frankfort. Please join Britainy and me in praying for his family during this difficult time.”

Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, said in a release, “Gov. Julian Carroll was the longest serving governor in modern times and, arguably, the last of the influential pre-succession governors under the old Kentucky Constitution.

“Few will have a career as distinguished as his, one that took him through the House of Representatives, the Executive Branch, and the Kentucky State Senate. Carroll influenced the Commonwealth’s governance for almost six decades.

“On behalf of the entire Kentucky State Senate, I extend my heartfelt condolences to the Carroll family during this difficult time.”

House Speaker David Osborne, R-Prospect, said, “On behalf of the Kentucky House of Representatives, I extend our deepest sympathies to the Carroll family.

“While Kentucky lost a former governor, they grieve the loss of a father, grandfather, and great-grandfather. Gov. Carroll’s political life spanned more than six decades and included service in the Kentucky House and Senate, as well as terms as lieutenant governor and governor. May his family find comfort in that service, as well as in knowing he is once again reunited with his wife, Charlann and son, Brad.”

Charlann Harting Carroll died in 2014. The governor and she had been married for 64 years.

They had four children — Kenneth, Patrice, Brad and Elly. Kenneth takes care of the farm and Patrice lives in Lexington. Elly lives in Washington state. Brad was killed on Aug. 14, 2011, when his Ford Explorer struck an embankment and caught fire on Leestown Road. He was 47. One of his sons, John Bradley, 30, lived with his grandfather, the former governor.

Carroll has seven grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. He used to make chocolate chip cookies for them on Sundays.

Born in 1931 to Elvie “Buster” and Eva Heady Carroll in West Paducah, Carroll was one of 11 children and was amazed to have been part of such a large family. Six of the siblings became college graduates.

Carroll was a good student. Near the end of 1950 when he was 19, he began dating Charlann Harting. They parted ways the next year so she could attend the University of Kentucky and he the nearby Paducah Junior College.

After their first college year, they decided to get married.

After graduating from the University of Kentucky Law School in 1956, Carroll served three years as an Air Force attorney and then returned to Paducah to practice law.

He garnered public attention when he successfully led a public campaign to allow the Tennessee Valley Authority to provide electricity at lower costs. The referendum passed by a 3-1 margin and Carroll became a household name in the county.

He became active in civic affairs and was a frequent lay speaker at the Cumberland Presbyterian Church.

Carroll was elected to the first of five two-year terms in the Kentucky House of Representatives in 1962 and held its highest office, speaker, from 1968 to 1970.

As House speaker, Carroll inherited a chamber where lobbyists frequently roamed the floor and family members came and went as they wanted. Carroll removed the lobbyists and family members from the floor to provide more decorum. Soon afterwards, the members gave him a standing ovation for the move, saying it made them more professional.

The governor was a Republican, Louie Nunn of Glasgow. He pushed through a sales tax increase that was called “Nunn’s nickel” by his political opponents and he never won another election. Carroll’s critics say he got to spend all the money when he was governor that Nunn had raised.

Carroll did not vote for the tax increase, saying he thought it was too much.

Carroll beat the popular Attorney General John Breckenridge in the 1971 Democratic primary election for lieutenant governor. He won the office by defeating Lexington businessman Jim Host in the general election.

Carroll was the informal running mate of former Gov. Bert T. Combs, who was seeking a second term. (The governor and lieutenant governor were elected separately at the time.) Combs, however, lost to Democrat Wendell Ford of Owensboro. Ford beat Republican Thomas Emberton in the fall’s general election. It marked the last time a Republican for governor has carried Jefferson County.

Ford later urged Carroll to run for the U.S. Senate in 1974 against Republican Marlow Cook but Carroll declined. Ford took the plunge and Carroll became governor.

Carroll won a four-year term as governor in his own right in 1975.

As governor, he says he was most proud of increasing funding to education — doubling some teachers’ salaries — and promoting the coal industry during a national energy crisis.

He also was governor when Kentuckians approved a constitutional amendment in 1975 to reorganize the state’s judicial system.

His toughest problem to deal with, he said, was the Beverly Hills Supper Club fire.

The fire in Southgate in Campbell County occurred on the night of May 28, 1977. In it, 165 people died and more than 200 were injured. The state found numerous code violations and initiated new safety policies.

His biggest disappointment as governor, he says, was “dealing with the FBI.”

Carroll and his predecessor were under the cloud of an investigation for an alleged workers compensation insurance kickback scheme. They were never convicted of any wrongdoing. Howard “Sonny” Hunt, a former state Democratic Party chairman, pleaded guilty to taking kickbacks from state insurance contractors and served time in prison.

Hunt and Carroll remained friends over the years.

After the governor’s office, Carroll practiced law in Frankfort.

In 2004, he was elected to the Kentucky Senate. Republicans were taking control of the state and ruled the state Senate.

In 2017 during his term in the Senate, Spectrum News reported allegations that Carroll had groped a male photographer and propositioned him for sex in 2005. Carroll denied the allegations but the Senate Democratic caucus removed Carrroll from leadership as caucus whip and asked him to resign after hearing an audio recording that allegedly contained Carroll’s proposition to the man. He refused to resign. Carroll served in the Senate until he retired in 2020.

Carroll was a member of Elevate Church, a local Assembly of God congregation, and liked to talk about his Christian beliefs.