Gatewood Galbraith: 1947-2012

In his autobiography, The Last Free Man in America: Meets the Synthetic Subversion, Gatewood Galbraith described his efforts to get the letters of recommendation he needed to take the bar exam.

As a University of Kentucky law student Galbraith had already taken up the campaign to legalize marijuana that he carried on until his death early Wednesday at the age of 64. He struck out when he approached some prominent men for letters. They initially agreed to endorse the young law student but changed course as they considered the impact of associating with a pro-pot radical. So Mr. Galbraith turned to an electrician and two housekeepers who worked for the university. "We had spoken to each other almost every day over the last three years and I valued their friendship," he wrote. Apparently the sentiment was returned. "You're the nicest guy who ever came through here and I think you'd make a great lawyer," he remembered one of them saying, and the other two agreed. Their letters were ready the next day.

The story rings true to anyone who ever saw Mr. Galbraith on the campaign trail during his many unsuccessful attempts at public office, including his fifth race for governor last year. He never walked away from his beliefs to curry favor with the powers-that-be, he was friendly to everyone, and he was often the nicest guy when the candidates gathered. He cared about Kentuckians, not as potential voters but as people.

Although known — and often dismissed — for his pro-marijuana stance, Mr. Galbraith was not a one-issue candidate. He advocated outlawing mountaintop removal mining, modernizing Kentucky's antiquated tax system and giving high school graduates $5,000 for books, tuition and fees for college. He raised very little money and didn't have public relations advisors, pollsters or party veterans to shape him into a more electable candidate. He was much too independent for that. But he elevated the debate when candidates met, insisting on talking about how to solve Kentucky's myriad problems while his well-financed opponents slung rehearsed barbs and half-truths at each other.

We'll miss Mr. Galbraith. He was an independent thinker, a smart man who never hesitated to tell the truth as he saw it. And he was one of the nicest guys who ever came through here.