Wallace Wilkinson

Wallace Wilkinson
A color portrait of a man in his forties wearing a suit and standing beside a handrail
57th Governor of Kentucky
In office
December 8, 1987 – December 10, 1991
LieutenantBrereton Jones
Preceded byMartha Layne Collins
Succeeded byBrereton Jones
Personal details
Wallace Glenn Wilkinson

(1941-12-12)December 12, 1941
Casey County, Kentucky, U.S.
DiedJuly 5, 2002(2002-07-05) (aged 60)
Lexington, Kentucky, U.S.
Resting placeSarasota Memorial Park, Sarasota, Florida
Political partyDemocratic
Spouse(s)Martha Carol Stafford
ChildrenWallace Wilkinson, Jr.,Andrew Wilkinson
Alma materUniversity of Kentucky(dropped out)

Wallace Glenn Wilkinson (December 12, 1941 – July 5, 2002) was an American businessman and politician from the Commonwealth of Kentucky. From 1987 to 1991, he served as the state's 57th governor. Wilkinson dropped out of college at the University of Kentucky in 1962 to attend to a book retail business he started. The business rapidly became a national success, and Wilkinson re-invested his profits in real estate, farming, transportation, banking, coal, and construction ventures, becoming extremely wealthy. In 1987, he joined a crowded field in the Democratic gubernatorial primary. After running behind two former governors and the sitting lieutenant governor for most of the race, Wilkinson began to climb in the polls after hiring then-unknown campaign consultant James Carville. Wilkinson campaigned on a promise of no new taxes and advocated a state lottery as an alternative means of raising money for the state. Wilkinson surprised most political observers by winning the primary and going on to defeat his Republican challenger in the general election.

Wilkinson was able to secure passage of a constitutional amendment allowing a state lottery. He also helped craft a significant education reform bill in response to a ruling by the Kentucky Supreme Court that declared the state's entire public school system unconstitutional. Wilkinson's term was plagued by political scandal and an uneasy relationship with the state legislature. He advocated an amendment to the state constitution that would allow him to seek a second consecutive term as governor, but the amendment was defeated in the General Assembly. His wife Martha attempted to succeed him, but withdrew from the campaign amid weak support for her candidacy. Following his term as governor, Wilkinson encountered difficult financial times. In 2001, he was sued by a group of creditors, and during the proceedings, it was revealed that he was operating a Ponzi scheme to keep his businesses afloat. Both he and his wife Martha filed for bankruptcy later that year. In 2002, Wilkinson was hospitalized with arterial blockages. His condition was complicated by a recurrence of Non-Hodgkin lymphoma. He suffered a stroke on July 4, 2002, and his family withdrew his life support the following day in accordance with his previously-expressed wishes.

Early life

Wallace Wilkinson was born on a farm in Casey County, Kentucky, about 5 miles (8.0 km) southwest of the city of Liberty, on December 12, 1941.[2] The son of Hershel and Cleo (Lay) Wilkinson, he had two older brothers and a younger sister.[3] His parents were farmers and also operated a small general store.[2] When Wilkinson was four years old, the family moved to Liberty, and the family opened Wilkinson's Grocery.[2] During his childhood, he delivered newspapers, sold popcorn from a street stand, and co-owned a shoe shine parlor with a boyhood friend.[4] He also accompanied his father to sell produce from the back of a truck.[2] It was during one such trip that he met Martha Carol Stafford, whose parents owned a grocery store about 10 miles (16 km) away.[2] The two dated throughout high school and were married in 1960.[2] They had two children: Wallace Glenn Wilkinson, Jr. (b. 1970) and Andrew Stafford Wilkinson (b. 1972).[5]

Wilkinson was a member of the freshman basketball team at Liberty High School.[3] Using profits from his early business ventures, he purchased a business wardrobe that earned him the title of best dressed member of his senior class.[3] He graduated from high school in 1959, but the poor curriculum there left him without the credits he needed to gain admission to the University of Kentucky's engineering program.[3] He began selling livestock feed in Scottsville, Kentucky, and also worked at a venetian blind factory while taking classes at Campbellsville College to earn the credits he needed.[3] In 1962, he moved to Lexington, Kentucky, and enrolled at the University of Kentucky.[3] While in college, he worked at Kennedy Book Store in Lexington.[6] Later, he and two friends borrowed money to open the Kentucky Paperback Gallery in Lexington; Wilkinson left school later that year to attend to the business full-time.[2][6][7] At the time, Kentucky high school students were required to purchase their own textbooks, but there was no marketplace for buying and selling used books; Wilkinson's business catered to this market and was highly successful.[2]