Wilson W. Wyatt

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Wilson Watkins Wyatt
43rd Lieutenant Governor of Kentucky
In office
December 8, 1959 – December 10, 1963
GovernorBert T. Combs
Preceded byHarry Lee Waterfield
Succeeded byHarry Lee Waterfield
Mayor of Louisville, Kentucky
In office
Preceded byJoseph D. Scholtz
Succeeded byE. Leland Taylor
Personal details
Born(1905-11-21)November 21, 1905
Louisville, Kentucky, U.S.
DiedJune 11, 1996(1996-06-11) (aged 90)
Louisville, Kentucky, U.S.
Political partyDemocratic
Alma materUniversity of Louisville (BA, LLB)

Wilson Watkins Wyatt (November 21, 1905 – June 11, 1996) was an American politician who served as Mayor of Louisville, Kentucky from 1941 to 1945 and as the 43rd Lieutenant Governor of Kentucky from 1959 to 1963. He was a member of the Democratic Party.

Early life and education[edit]

Wyatt was born in Louisville to Richard H. and Mary (Watkins) Wyatt and attended the University of Louisville and the University of Louisville School of Law.[1] He was admitted to the bar in 1927. He was the principal counsel for The Louisville Courier-Journal and other Bingham family-owned media companies prior to launching his political career.


Early career[edit]

Wyatt's political career began with his election as the mayor of Louisville in 1941. He took office just after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Wyatt made civil defense a priority in his city and also initiated Louisville's planning and zoning commission.

Politics and diplomacy[edit]

At the 1944 Democratic National Convention in Chicago, Wyatt was called upon to advise U.S. Senator Alben W. Barkley of Kentucky, who was scheduled to give the nomination speech for U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Barkley at first said he would not make the speech after FDR passed him up for the vice-presidential recommendation in favor of Harry S. Truman of Missouri. James A. Farley, FDR's former Postmaster General and Barkley confidant, agreed with Wyatt and insisted that Barkley give what is recalled as a particularly effective oration on Roosevelt's behalf.[2]

As Wyatt's term as mayor of Louisville ended, President Truman, who in 1948 did tap Barkley as his vice-presidential choice, appointed Wyatt as United States Housing Expediter for the Office of War Mobilization, a position given Cabinet-level rank.

With Eleanor Roosevelt, Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., Hubert Humphrey, and others, Wyatt took a leading role in the founding and leadership of the interest group, Americans for Democratic Action. He was the first ADA chairman of the group in 1947.

Wyatt was campaign manager for Adlai Stevenson's 1952 presidential campaign and played a prominent role in Stevenson's 1956 presidential campaign. Both ended in losses to Dwight D. Eisenhower.

In 1959, Wyatt planned to run for governor of Kentucky. Instead, he ran for lieutenant governor with Bert T. Combs at the top of the ticket. Combs and Wyatt were both elected and served in those offices from 1959 through 1963. Combs' administration created the Kentucky Economic Development Commission, with Wyatt as its chairman.

In 1962, Wyatt was the unsuccessful Democratic nominee for the United States Senate but lost the election to the moderate Republican incumbent, Thruston B. Morton.

In 1963, President John F. Kennedy appointed Wyatt as a special envoy to Indonesia.[3] Wyatt's mission was successful and Sukarno did not take over foreign-owned elements of the Indonesian oil industry, as had occurred in Mexico in 1938.

Return to law[edit]

After leaving the lieutenant governor's office in 1963, Wyatt returned to the law firm which he had co-founded in the late 1940s. Originally known as Wyatt, Grafton & Grafton, the firm had changed name partners when Wyatt became lieutenant governor. The Grafton brothers, Cornelius ("Chip"), father of noted mystery novelist, Sue Grafton, and Arthur had formed the firm with Wyatt. Chip Grafton's practice was heavily oriented to representation of municipal bond issuers. Wyatt's position as lieutenant governor presented a conflict of interest for the law firm. As a result, Chip left the firm and instead formed Harper, Ferguson, Grafton & Fleischer. The Wyatt firm became known as Wyatt, Grafton & Sloss, with partner Robert L. Sloss elevated to name status.

After completing his term as governor, Combs was appointed a federal appellate judge. He resigned this position to seek another term as governor in 1971, but he was defeated in the Democratic primary by his former executive secretary Wendell H. Ford. Combs then resumed the practice of law with the old line Louisville firm of Bullitt, Dawson and Tarrant, which was renamed Tarrant, Combs & Bullitt. In the early 1980s, after Wyatt's retirement, Gordon Davidson, the managing partner of the Wyatt firm, and Combs engineered the merger of the two firms, forming Kentucky's largest law firm, Wyatt, Tarrant & Combs.

Vice President Hubert Humphrey had Wyatt play an important role at the 1968 Democratic National Convention, again in Chicago. Wyatt, who twenty-four years earlier had soothed the hurt feelings of Alben Barkley, then devised a compromise over the party's platform plank in regard to the lingering Vietnam War.

For the remainder of his life, Wyatt was active in the legal community and with civic affairs in Kentucky. He and his wife, Anne, donated $500,000 to the Jefferson County public schools to create scholarships for high school debaters, and another $500,000 to the law school at the University of Louisville, where he had once served as chairman of the trustees. The university in 1995 named its law school building after Wyatt. He served a term as chairman of the board of trustees at Bellarmine University; a sizeable donation from the Wyatts funds a lecture series at the school.


Wyatt died in 1996; he is interred in Section 33, Lot 13 of Cave Hill Cemetery in Louisville.[4]


  1. ^ Tapp, Hambleton (1966). Kentucky lives: the Blue Grass State who's who; a reference edition recording the biographies of contemporary leaders in Kentucky. Hopkinsville, Ky: Historical Record Association. pp. 611–612.
  2. ^ David M. Jordan, FDR, Dewey, and the Election of 1944, Blomington: Indiana University Press, 2011, pp. 165, 167, ISBN 978-0-253-35683-3
  3. ^ Stars and Stripes May 31, 1963
  4. ^ "Find A Grave Memorial for Wilson W. Wyatt Sr". Find A Grave. Retrieved March 20, 2022.

Further reading[edit]

  • Pearce, John Ed (1987). Divide and Dissent : Kentucky Politics, 1930-1963. University Press of Kentucky. ISBN 0-8131-1613-9.
  • Wyatt, Sr., Wilson W. (1985). Whistle Stops: Adventures in Public Life. University Press of Kentucky. ISBN 0-8131-1537-X.
Political offices
Preceded by
Harry Lee Waterfield
Lieutenant Governor of Kentucky
January 1, 1959 – January 1, 1963
Succeeded by
Preceded by Mayor of Louisville, Kentucky
December 1, 1941 – December 1, 1945
Succeeded by
Party political offices
Preceded by Democratic Nominee for the United States Senate (Class 3) from Kentucky
Succeeded by
Non-profit organization positions
Preceded by President of the National Municipal League
December 1972 – November 1975
Succeeded by
Carl H. Pforzheimer