Bourbon County

Uncommonwealth: Who's most influential in the Lexington area?

In 1981, the Lexington Leader newspaper published a list of the most influential Lexingtonians. It was a collection of white men — smart, business-savvy, opinionated white men.

Some of them are still in the news today, including the Webb brothers, Donald and Dudley. Others, such as the late Walter Hillenmeyer, chief at First Security Bank, are long departed; he died in 1990.

The list caused some controversy in the community from those who were not included, who felt slighted and tended to refer to the list as damaging for local esprit de corps. Others were more sanguine.

Hillenmeyer, who came from a family in the garden business, joked that his career path took him from manure to money and was the most genial of men.

Others who are departed have left their mark all over town. The late William T. Young Sr. surely would chuckle if he heard the University of Kentucky library named in his honor is referred to by students as "the Willie T."

In 1994, the Herald-Leader took on the task of naming the city's most influential a second time, and it became clear that some people were deemed influential more as a result of the job in which they had landed: the publisher of the Herald-Leader, the mayor, the chief executive of the area's biggest bank, the president of UK, those making the biggest contribution to changing the city skyline.

And, of course, there was the person who coached the UK men's basketball team at the time, Rick Pitino.

Women and minorities traditionally have not fared well in the most-influential list as compiled by this newspaper and its predecessor; although they managed to pull a better showing in a more inclusive, diverse 1994 list.

Has Lexington leadership shifted during the past 30 years?

Mayor Jim Gray would seem like a slam-dunk for a most-influential list in 2013. Love them or not, Donald and Dudley Webb continue to be active, with their recent purchase of Victorian Square. Dudley Webb is the developer on the long-stalled CentrePointe project, about which he has duelled verbally with Gray, who has long wondered when the building is coming to that vacant lot.

UK Coach John Calipari has 1.2 million followers monitoring his every microblog on Twitter. UK President Eli Capilouto is taking the university in a leaner direction geared toward outsourcing functions including housing and feeding of students.

The lack of diversity on the past lists is troubling, says P.G. Peeples, president and chief executive officer of the Lexington branch of the Urban League. Peeples and Lexington Housing Authority head Austin Simms are often considered among Lexington's most influential citizens.

Peeples sees getting people of color into leadership training as problematic. He recalls once seeing a picture of the class of Leadership Lexington with only one black participant. Peeples rallied his troops, and the next year Leadership Lexington had a dozen black class members.

A few years after that, the number had slid back to one, Peeples said.

"I'm firmly convinced that if someone who thinks about diversity is not in the conversation, diversity will not be in the conversation," Peeples said. "Every time I bring up this topic and go through this scenario, people say, 'I really hadn't noticed that. ... Someone has to be 24/7 reminding people it (diversity) is part of the culture."

Peeples and former Urban County Council member and civic activist Debra Hensley were mentioned among Lexington leaders to watch in the 1994 group of articles. But Hensley said she has never used the word leader for herself.

Even during her days on the council — which she left in 1991 — Hensley said, "I never was able to penetrate that glass ceiling. So I found my own little niche. I look for people like that."

Among those Hensley suggests as up-and-coming leaders: Tanya Torp, director of community engagement for United Way of the Bluegrass; Angela Baldridge, executive director of the Plantary (and a photographer who frequently free-lances for the Herald-Leader); writer and Wild Fig bookstore owner Crystal Wilkinson; LeTonia Jones, advocacy programs administrator for the Kentucky Domestic Violence Association; Bianca Spriggs, an Affrilachian poet; Kelly Flood, the Democratic representative for Kentucky's 75th House District; and Lisa Higgins Hord, assistant vice president for community engagement at UK.

Peeples' suggestions include Anissa Franklin, chief administrative officer at the Urban League; Ray Daniels, whose company runs Lexington-area Waffle Houses; Janet Beard, vice president of community affairs at Fifth Third Bank; Abdul Muhammad, vice president of mortgage lending at Fifth Third; Rodney Jackson, finance director for Fayette County Public Schools; and Danny Murphy, 2013 board chair of CommerceLexington.

Send us five names of people you think have the most influence on Lexington and Central Kentucky. Send them by email to Cheryl Truman,

The deadline to receive suggestions is noon Feb. 11.

Email suggestions only, please.

We'll compile a ballot and present it within the next few weeks. Readers will vote, and then we will reveal and write about the final results.

Here are the people who made the newspaper's previous lists:


Pam Miller, Lexington mayor; Charles T. Wethington, Jr., president, University of Kentucky; Lewis Owens, president and publisher, Lexington Herald-Leader Co.; William R. Hartman, chairman, Bank One, Lexington; William T. Young Sr., chairman, W.T. Young Storage Co.

Respondents, also said that the chief executive of the Toyota Motor Manufacturing U.S.A. plant at Georgetown, Alex Warren, would be influential because of the impact of Toyota's then-5,000 Kentucky jobs.

Others mentioned included: John T. Newton, chairman, KU Energy Corp.; Wayne L. Smith, chairman, Central Bank & Trust Co.; Larry Walsh, police chief; Terry McBrayer, attorney, McBrayer, McGinnis, Leslie & Kirkland; Rick Pitino, UK men's basketball coach; Alex Campbell, businessman and investor; and Lucille Little, philanthropist.

Among the up-and-comers cited in the survey were Teresa Isaac, then vice mayor; Tim Haymaker, owner of Haymaker Co.; Jim Gray, executive vice president, Gray Construction Co.; Debra Hensley, businesswoman and former member of the Urban County Council; Luther Deaton Jr., executive vice president, Central Bank; and Mary Ellen Slone, chairman of Meridian Communications and the Lexington Chamber of Commerce.


Walter Hillenmeyer Jr., chairman of First Security National Bank; Warren Rosenthal, who built Jerrico and Long John Silver's Seafood Shoppes into a food industry power; Creed Black, chairman and publisher of the Lexington Herald-Leader Co.; John Y. Brown Jr., Kentucky's governor, 1979-83; Otis Singletary, president of UK.

Jim Amato, mayor; Donald and Dudley Webb of The Webb Cos., among the top real-estate developers nationwide; William T. Young Sr., the Lexington businessman who launched what became Jif peanut butter, was a director of Humana Inc. and was vice chairman of Brown's gubernatorial cabinet; and Alex Campbell, who founded the Triangle Foundation, which built and developed Triangle Park and Thoroughbred Park.