John Y. Brown Jr., the former Democratic governor of Kentucky, has died at age 88.
Brown will perhaps be remembered best as a restaurant magnate who built Kentucky Fried Chicken into a global fast-food juggernaut, but it was his turn as governor that cemented Brown as an esteemed Kentucky statesman.
“Our Dad, John Y. Brown Jr., not only dreamed the impossible dream, he lived it until the very end. His positive attitude and zest for life was unrivaled and allowed him to beat the odds many times over,” Pamela Brown, CNN’s anchor and senior Washington correspondent, said in a statement.
“Every day was an exciting adventure for him. He was a true Kentucky original who beamed with pride for his home state and its people. He had many prominent accomplishments, but most of all he loved his family with all of his heart, and we in turn loved him with all of our hearts. We are heartbroken by his passing, but find comfort in what he wrote in one of his final days, ‘I have never been so happy.’”
Born in Lexington, Kentucky, in 1933, Brown paid his way through college and law school at the University of Kentucky as one of Encyclopedia Britannica’s top salesmen.
Following service in the US Army Reserve, he co-purchased Kentucky Fried Chicken from Harland Sanders in 1964. Brown would transform KFC into a household name, with the chain briefly becoming the largest fast-food service in the world.
After selling the restaurant in 1971, Brown became financially involved in multiple professional sports teams before turning to politics.
Brown would go on to leverage his name recognition in the state into a successful bid for governor, leading Kentucky from 1979 to 1983. His campaign slogan, “Running government like a business,” leaned on his corporate credentials and media-friendly presence.
During his tenure, according to the National Governors Association, Brown brought “record commerce” to Kentucky and reduced the state budget by more than 20%. His administration saw a more diverse cabinet than previous administrations, and the establishment of programs still in use today.
In 2009, Harvard Business School honored Brown as one of the top American business leaders in the 20th century, along with Ray Kroc, Sam Walton, Walt Disney, and Bill Gates.
News of his passing prompted an immediate outpouring of messages from political figures in and out of Kentucky.
Gov. Andy Beshear hailed Brown as “a remarkable leader who was committed to serving the people of Kentucky.”
“He made our commonwealth a better place. Britainy and I are praying for his family and loved ones,” Beshear, a Democrat, said in a tweet.
Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell similarly praised Brown for applying his “private sector prowess to government.”
“Our prayers are with Governor Brown’s four children and all others who knew and loved this legendary businessman and statesman,” he said.
Brown is survived by his sons, Lincoln and John Brown III, his daughters, Pamela Brown Wright, Sandy Steier and Sissy Brown, and his grandchildren, Vivienne and Benny Wright, Eleanor, Grace, Brooks and Colson Steier, Maggie Brown, John Brown IV, Will and Meg Talley, Lindo Mfeka and Will Alondamwani.
Visitation will take place Tuesday, November 29, at the Kentucky Capitol rotunda where Brown will lie in state. Visitation is open to the public from 10 a.m.-7 p.m. He will have a private service in the rotunda on Wednesday. In lieu of flowers, donations to the Sanders Brown Center on Aging, which Brown helped found, are appreciated.
This story has been updated with additional information.