Politics & Government

Fontaine Banks Jr. to retire after advising Kentucky governors for a half century

FRANKFORT — Fontaine Banks Jr., whose public service career spans more than 50 years and involves working in various roles for six governors, is retiring.

"I'm 82, I have Parkinson's and I'm tired," Banks said Thursday in his Frankfort home when asked why he submitted his resignation this week as a senior policy adviser to Gov. Steve Beshear.

It is effective Dec. 15, two days after Beshear is sworn into office for a second four-year term.

Banks has held the $68,298-a-year state job since January 2008 and was a staff member of Beshear's 2007 campaign for governor.

Banks, a Pike County native who volunteered for the Marines and served in the Korean War, said he will miss state government and would consider a gubernatorial appointment to a state board or commission.

"I do want to keep busy."

Beshear said Banks "will be missed in the halls of Frankfort."

"I have valued Fontaine's friendship and advice throughout my own political career, and I am honored to be among the six governors Fontaine Banks has worked so tirelessly for during his half-century tenure in Kentucky state government," Beshear said.

"I commend not only his service to our commonwealth but also to our nation for his 35 years of service in the U.S. Marine Corps and as a Korean War veteran."

Banks, the son of a coal miner, graduated from Belfry High School in Pike County and received a bachelor's degree in history and political science in 1951 from Berea College. He also studied at the universities of Alabama, Tennessee, Kentucky and Cornell.

In state government, Banks was chief of staff for the late Gov. Bert T. Combs from 1960 to 1963 and held the same position from 1963 to 1967 for the late Gov. Edward T. "Ned" Breathitt.

He also was secretary of the Cabinet for Human Resources from January 1993 to May 1994 for Gov. Brereton Jones and deputy human resources secretary for Gov. Martha Layne Collins in the 1980s.

In 2008, Banks wrote a book about his career called Memoirs of a Political Legend.

Banks said his greatest work in state government was helping Combs create the state merit system to protect rank-and-file state workers from political influence.

Finance Secretary Lori Flanery said Banks "is a wealth of institutional knowledge and was always gracious in sharing ideas and information based upon his past experiences. Kentucky is a better place for his involvement in state government over the past five decades. I will miss his clever sense of humor and historical political anecdotes."