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Former Gov. John Y. Brown Jr.'s children share memories of their father with LEX 18

Posted at 5:28 PM, Nov 29, 2022

(LEX 18) — On Tuesday, John Y. Brown Jr.'s body was lying in the very building where he served the people of Kentucky as the 55th governor. He is only the 22nd Kentuckian to receive that honor.

Governor Brown has been described as a fast-food empire maker and half of Kentucky's ultimate power couple. But to five people who share his last name, he was Dad.

The Brown children, three from his first marriage to Eleanor Bennett Durall and two from his marriage to Phyllis George, welcomed the public to the capitol rotunda, greeting visitors and graciously accepting condolences while listening to stories about their father.

But before that, John Y. Brown III, Lincoln Brown, and Pamela Brown Wright sat down with me. We didn't discuss John Y. Brown Jr. the businessman or the politician... but John Y. Brown Jr., the father.

Sitting together, reminiscing about their father, Brown's children do so with smiles, not tears.

My first question... what was their father's public legacy? The answer was easy.

"So many people have said, he made me proud to be a Kentuckian," said his daughter, Pamela. "And he put Kentucky on the world stage, with Kentucky Fried Chicken ... he did so much to promote the state. And he loved the people of Kentucky."

"And, I think he'd want the people of Kentucky, he'd say it in his own kind way, to really believe in themselves," said Brown's son, Lincoln. "And not to be intimidated by bigger states or have any reservations that they're not good enough."

So how much did John Y. Brown believe in Kentucky?

"Being governor, that was his time," said John Y. Brown III. "He was in charge, and I think it was more gratifying personally, than making money."

"Those were his happiest years in terms of his career, he said over and over, that the happiest he ever was, was those four years in terms of his career over anything he did," said Lincoln.

In recent days, Brown has been described as "larger than life" by having made a fortune in fast food with a Miss America on his arm. Did that put a burden of expectation on his children?

"I give my Dad a lot of credit," said John Y. Brown III. "He went out of his way to not put pressure on us. To let us find our own way the best he could. He would encourage us and support us, but I never felt pressure from him."

When the spotlight was no longer on him, all three agree their father always held the people of Kentucky close to his heart.

"There was the recent flooding in eastern Kentucky and the historic tornado in western Kentucky; he was working the phones," said Pamela. "He was helping me because I was covering it for CNN. He was really, really torn up about what his people were going through."

His children say his outlook and constant optimism never failed him... even in the end.

"He couldn't speak in those final days, and he had a little whiteboard," said Lincoln. "He just wrote out, 'I've never been so happy.' And he really meant it. For him to write on that board 'I've never been so happy' when he's in the hospital, has been for weeks, on a ventilator, can't talk. But he says that because we're all surrounding him... it just tells you all you need to know about how Dad looked at life."

The Brown family mentioned other accomplishments while the governor was in office, including establishing the governor's scholar program, and they say, laying the groundwork for a good relationship with Japan, which later helped bring Toyota to Georgetown.