John Y. Brown Jr.

John Young Brown Jr. (December 28, 1933 – November 22, 2022) was an American politician, entrepreneur, and businessman from Kentucky. He served as the 55th governor of Kentucky from 1979 to 1983, and built Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) into a multimillion-dollar restaurant chain.

John Y. Brown Jr.
Brown during his term as governor, 1978-82
55th Governor of Kentucky
In office
December 11, 1979  December 13, 1983
LieutenantMartha Layne Collins
Preceded byJulian Carroll
Succeeded byMartha Layne Collins
Personal details
Born
John Young Brown Jr.

(1933-12-28)December 28, 1933
Lexington, Kentucky, U.S.
DiedNovember 22, 2022(2022-11-22) (aged 88)
Lexington, Kentucky, U.S.
Political partyDemocratic
Spouses
  • Eleanor Durall
    (m. 1960; div. 1977)
  • (m. 1979; div. 1998)
  • Jill Roach
    (m. 1998; div. 2003)
Children5, including John and Pamela
Parent
EducationUniversity of Kentucky (BA, LLB)
Military service
Branch/service United States Army
Years of service1959–1965
UnitU.S. Army Reserve

The son of United States Congressman John Y. Brown Sr., Brown's talent for business became evident in college, where he made a substantial amount of money selling Encyclopædia Britannica sets. After briefly practicing law with his father, he purchased Kentucky Fried Chicken from founder Harland Sanders in 1964. Brown turned the company into a worldwide success and sold his interest in the company for a huge profit in 1971. He then invested in several other restaurant ventures, but none matched the success of KFC. During the 1970s, he also owned, at various times, three professional basketball teams: the American Basketball Association's Kentucky Colonels, and the National Basketball Association's Boston Celtics and Buffalo Braves (currently the Los Angeles Clippers).

Despite having previously shown little inclination toward politics, Brown surprised political observers by declaring his candidacy for governor in the 1979 election. With the state and nation facing difficult economic times, Brown promised to run the state government like a business. A strong media campaign funded by his personal fortune allowed him to win the Democratic primary and go on to defeat former Republican governor Louie B. Nunn in the general election. Because he owed few favors to established political leaders, he appointed many successful businesspeople to state posts instead of making political appointments. Following through on his campaign promise to make more diverse appointments, he named a woman and an African-American to his cabinet. During his tenure, Brown exerted less influence over the legislature than previous governors and was frequently absent from the state, leaving Lieutenant Governor Martha Layne Collins as acting governor for more than one-quarter of his term. He briefly competed for the U.S. Senate after his gubernatorial term in the 1984 election but withdrew from the race after only six weeks, citing health issues. He continued to invest in business ventures, the most high profile of which was Kenny Rogers Roasters, a wood-roasted chicken restaurant he founded with country music star Kenny Rogers.

Brown married three times, the second time to former Miss America Phyllis George. Among his children are news anchor Pamela Ashley Brown and former Secretary of State of Kentucky John Young Brown III.


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