Mike Haydon, Gov. Steve Beshear's chief of staff and a former mayor of Springfield, died Sunday at the age of 62.
He suffered a heart attack, Springfield Mayor John Cecconi Sr. said.
"Springfield will miss Mike a lot," Cecconi said. "Last time I talked to Mike, he was upbeat as he could be, probably at the African-American celebration last week. He showed no signs of illness."
Beshear said in a statement Sunday evening that he and his wife, Jane, were "shocked and devastated" by Mr. Haydon's death.
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"Jane and I will always be grateful for his dedication, counsel, knowledge and sense of humor," the statement read. "We have not only lost a man who dedicated his life to improving the future for Kentuckians, we have also lost one of our best friends.
"But the pain of our loss pales in comparison to that of his wife, Lisa, and their three children, Blair, Kate and Ben, as well as the many members of his extended family. Mike was a dedicated husband and father, and he was never happier than when he was with his family.
"We grieve with them now, and are praying for them."
Mr. Haydon was a veteran of more than 30 years of government service at the local and state levels, acting as deputy secretary of the Governor's Executive Cabinet under then-Gov. Paul Patton and as his secretary of the Revenue Cabinet. Mr. Haydon also had been chief of staff for House Majority Floor Leader Rocky Adkins, D-Sandy Hook.
In addition to being mayor of Springfield, he was a former property valuation administrator in Washington County.
Mr. Haydon took over as Beshear's chief of staff in 2010 after having served as his legislative liaison.
House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, reflected on knowing Mr. Haydon for more than 20 years.
"He had a great understanding of the issues both locally and at the state level, and that experience helped him and those he worked with immensely," Stumbo said in a statement. "On behalf of the Kentucky House, our thoughts and prayers go out to the Haydon family. He will be missed."
News of Mr. Haydon's passing made waves across political lines in Frankfort and throughout the state Sunday.
"Terrible," said House Minority Floor Leader Jeff Hoover, R-Jamestown. "He was a very good friend. He was just a good guy ... In politics, you have friends, but occasionally you develop friendships across party lines that transcend politics. That's how I considered Mike."
Crit Luallen, former state auditor and executive cabinet secretary under Patton, said Mr. Haydon came to work as her deputy as far back as the administration of Gov. Brereton Jones, and they worked closely together in Patton's administration.
"He was also just a dear friend," Luallen said. "I watched his children grow up. Mike was an irrepressible spirit. ... He loved public service and excelled in every job he took on."
James Ramsey, University of Louisville president and former budget director under Patton, also called Mr. Haydon a longtime friend and said in a statement that he was shocked by his death.
"Mike was a respected public servant who used all of his energy to make Kentucky a better place for all," he said.
Patton is out of the country until late Thursday, said James Hurley, who will succeed him as president of the University of Pikeville. "I know Gov. Patton will be very saddened to hear this news upon his return. ... He loved Mike."
Adkins, through spokeswoman Susan Klimchak, said he was "deeply saddened" by Mr. Haydon's death.
"He was of such a great service to me when I became majority leader," Adkins said in a statement. "His years in public service, knowledge of the legislative process and intellect made him a very valuable member of our team.
"It's hard to believe he's gone, as I just saw him this last week."
Senate Majority Floor Leader Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, said Mr. Haydon was "always honorable" and respected for his understanding of legislators' positions.
"We were always very frank with each other, but we knew where to draw the lines. He was the consummate professional," Stivers said. "He was always able to set aside the political aspects and the differences, and able to have a good discussion about basketball."
Stivers said he often joked with Mr. Haydon before news conferences with the governor's office by asking to borrow his hairbrush.
"One day he had someone go out and get me one, so he could hand it to me," Stivers said. "He caught me that time."
Funeral arrangements for Mr. Haydon were not available Sunday evening.