Politics & Government

Laughter, tears and fond recollections fill Gatewood Galbraith memorial service

Gatewood Galbraith's signature hat was displayed on his portrait on on Thursday, Jan. 12, 2012 at the Galbraith memorial at the Carnegie Center for Literacy in Lexington.  This was a public memorial for attorney and politician Gatewood Galbraith.  Photo by David Perry | Staff
Gatewood Galbraith's signature hat was displayed on his portrait on on Thursday, Jan. 12, 2012 at the Galbraith memorial at the Carnegie Center for Literacy in Lexington. This was a public memorial for attorney and politician Gatewood Galbraith. Photo by David Perry | Staff HERALD-LEADER

A few hundred of Gatewood Galbraith's family members, friends and admirers crowded into Lexington's Carnegie Center for Literacy & Learning on Thursday to laugh, shed tears, listen to music, dance and share stories as they remembered the likeable, iconoclastic attorney and political figure who died last week.

The most dramatic moment of the memorial service came as two of Galbraith's three daughters, Abby Sears Galbraith and Molly Galbraith, fought back tears to give their personal recollections of a father who told them daily how much he loved them.

"Love came naturally to him; he loved us unconditionally," Abby Galbraith said. She said her father wanted three things for his children: to be happy, to be healthy and to be kind to others.

Molly Galbraith said that when her father was running for governor in 2007, she asked him what he'd do if he won. She said he replied, "I can't wait to get up there and tell people they're free and they don't have to be afraid anymore."

Galbraith always cared about people, those at the memorial said over and over again.

Galbraith, who died Jan. 4 at age 64, ran for governor five times, pushing eclectic platforms that favored legalization of marijuana, opposed mountain-top removal and backed the relaxation of gun laws. He never won a race, but he left an indelible mark on the political scene.

Memorials to politicians usually are staged in large auditoriums, with much formality and huge crowds. Fittingly, Galbraith's memorial was small, informal and intimate, a style he would have appreciated.

An honor guard from American Legion Man o' War Post No. 8 opened the event by presenting the colors. A woman in the audience started to dance as a three-piece band, The Other Brothers, played a few numbers.

The Rev. Mark Davis of Lexington's First Presbyterian Church said the service was a "remarkable outpouring of sympathy, love and affection" for a man who touched many lives.

Lexington Mayor Jim Gray drew laughter, recalling that Galbraith once warned Gray to never debate Galbraith because "you will fail." Galbraith was "full of life in every dimension," Gray said.

The mayor presented an official proclamation to Galbraith's daughters, celebrating him as a man of truth, integrity and conviction.

Former Fayette Circuit Judge Lewis Paisley said Galbraith never failed to stand up for the rights of defendants he represented in court.

U.S. Rep. Ben Chandler recalled that when Galbraith was making one of his early runs for office, he sought advice from former Gov. A.B. "Happy" Chandler, his grandfather. Galbraith wanted to know what the two-time governor thought of Galbraith's idea to legalize marijuana in Kentucky and make it a cash crop.

Ben Chandler said his grandfather replied, "I think it's a great idea ... and then you get to tax the hell out of it."

Artist and blues musician Rodney Hatfield said he'd known Galbraith since the 1960s when "we were young men together ... with all that implies."

"I thought his concession speech after his last campaign was absolutely Jeffersonian, one of the most elegant speeches I ever heard," Hatfield said. "It would have been wonderful if he had won one of those races, just to see what he would have done in office."

Davis closed the service by stressing that Galbraith "always did what he thought was right."

"That," he said, "is quite a legacy to leave behind."

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