FRANKFORT — In a solemn ceremony in Kentucky's Capitol Rotunda Sunday, Wendell Ford, the first person in the state's history to be elected lieutenant governor, governor and U.S. senator, was remembered as a "colossus" in Kentucky politics.
Eulogist Thomas "Tommy" Preston, who was Ford's press secretary in his years as governor, reminded the large crowd that "colossus" applies "to rare human beings whose accomplishments, exploits and earned fame impact positively upon what is best for current and future generations."
"Truly, Wendell H. Ford is a colossus. He will remain thus, long after we pass through our earthly life," said Preston to a room filled with many of Kentucky's most notable politicians.
The memorial service in the Rotunda, carried live statewide on KET, honored the legacy of Ford, a Democratic icon who died at age 90 Thursday at his home in Owensboro. A funeral will be held Tuesday at the First Baptist Church in Owensboro, with interment at Elmwood Cemetery in Owensboro.
Never miss a local story.
Ford's closed casket at the memorial service in the Capitol Rotunda rested in front of the large statue of Abraham Lincoln. A spray of white roses adorned the casket, and a lone state trooper, with head bowed, stood nearby.
A steady stream of people passed by the casket for four hours before the 3 p.m. memorial service.
Present for the service was a who's who of Kentucky politicians.
They included U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and his wife, former U.S. Labor Secretary Elaine Chao; all former living governors except Brereton Jones; U.S. Reps. Hal Rogers of Somerset, Andy Barr of Lexington, Brett Guthrie of Bowling Green and John Yarmuth of Louisville; former U.S. Reps. Larry Hopkins of Lexington and Ben Chandler of Versailles; state House Speaker Greg Stumbo of Prestonsburg; state Senate President Robert Stivers of Manchester; several Kentucky Supreme Court justices; state Attorney General Jack Conway; state Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes; state Auditor Adam Edelen; state Treasurer Todd Hollenbach; Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer; Lexington Mayor Jim Gray; Louisville Metro Council President David Tandy; and several current and former state legislators.
The service began with music from the Owensboro Symphony Orchestra String Quintet.
As the quintet played the 1848 Shaker song, Simple Gifts, Ford's wife of 71 years, Jean Ford, and other family members entered the Rotunda. The crowd stood for them.
After the playing of Amazing Grace, Gov. Steve Beshear read from the Bible Proverbs 31:8-9.
It says "Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy."
Beshear then prayed for comfort for the Ford family and for everyone to use their talents to help their neighbors.
Preston's eulogy came from the perspective of a dear friend.
Preston said Ford told him about 12 years ago that he wanted Preston to "someday give my eulogy."
Preston said he asked Ford why him when he could have chosen someone more well-known.
"I've been identified as a fighter for people, a tax cutter sympathetic to families carrying heavy loads while trying to make ends meet," Ford told him. "These are good, honest citizens who've become labeled by others as 'from the lower to middle class' ... the so-called common men and women of our era.
"If I'm credited for helping them, then I accept that honor proudly. So T.P., my answer to your question is this: I picked you because you're about as common as anyone I know."
Lt. Gov. Crit Luallen delivered the closing prayer, saying she hopes Ford's example of leadership will inspire a new generation.
Colmon Elridge III, an aide to Beshear, led the crowd in singing My Old Kentucky Home to close the service.
"His spirit will live on in each of those he touched," Luallen had said of Ford.