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Tom Chaney: Oral History - behind the scene - Ed Prichard

Of Writers and Their Books No. R768: First appeared 24 June 2007
> The next earlier Tom Chaney column :Tom Chaney, No. R767: Dr. Thomas D. Clark (1903-2005)

By Tom Chaney

Oral history -- behind the scene (Ed Prichard, Jr. (1915-1984)

I have never been a member of the Kentucky Historical Society. I'm not bragging. In fact, I am a bit ashamed of the fact. The Society does good works -- too myriad to mention here. Their journal is a great resource for those interested in Kentucky history.

Ann Matera came into The Bookstore on her way from the post office the other day and dropped a 2006 issue of The Register of the Kentucky Historical Society on the round table with some remark that it was too big to read. One reason I haven't joined the society is that she lets me read her copies of The Register.

This one was a gem. Two hundred fourteen of its some 500 pages is devoted to the Kentucky Oral History Commission's interview with Edward F. Prichard, Jr. -- released for publication just last year.

A graduate of Princeton and Harvard Law, Prichard was called by historian Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. "perhaps the most brilliant man of my generation." This native of Paris, Kentucky, was described by publisher of The Washington Post, Katharine Graham, as "the most impressive man of our generation, the one who dazzled us most."

A brilliant member of the Roosevelt Brain Trust in Washington, Prichard returned to Kentucky after World War II to begin what was to have been a brilliant career in Kentucky politics. That career was thwarted by a conviction for ballot box stuffing when he was 34. Yet he became "the ultimate Kentucky political insider across several decades. His ideas helped shape much of the important progressive legislation that emanated from the Combs and Ned Breathitt gubernatorial administrations."

Prichard, ever a champion of educational reform, chaired the committee of citizens which launched the Kentucky Educational Reform Act of 1990 -- six years after his death.

Vic Hellard, head of the Kentucky Legislative Research Commission, conducted the interviews from 1982 through 1984. The tapes were released after the death of Prichard's wife Lucy in 2006. This article makes use of twelve of the eighteen interviews carrying the story through the end of the Ned Breathitt administration in 1967.

At Harvard Prichard was a student of Felix Frankfurter. When Professor Frankfurter became Justice Frankfurter of the United States Supreme Court, Prichard came along as his law clerk. In the White House and other corridors of power Prichard became a trusted major player through the early days of the Truman administration.

Prichard began serious work in Kentucky politics just out of Princeton in the campaign of A. B. Chandler for governor of Kentucky. He worked for the Chandler administration for a couple of summers thereafter between terms of law school. He was present in 1938 when Roosevelt came to Kentucky to endorse Alben W. Barkley for senator in his primary race against Chandler. Chandler met the Roosevelt motorcade at Latonia and leapt over the side of the car to sit next to Roosevelt.

FDR later told Prichard "that was the nervy-ous thing he ever saw. That he just thought it took the prize for gall, but he thought it was funny. [H]e wasn't so much indignant about it as just a little bit amazed."

Prichard provides delicious insight into the inner workings of Kentucky government and politics from the Earle C. Clements administration. His comments on the various players with roles both on stage and behind the scenes are frank and revealing.

Hellard asks, "What about Cattie Lou Miller [Horse Cave native whose career in Frankfort spanned the Prichard years]? Of course, she had been around for some time, had she not?"

Prichard replies, "Yeah, but Cattie Lou Miller was a power wherever she was. She knew every little detail of everything. I used to accuse her of memorizing all the regulations of the personnel department. Cattie Lou was very good at picking up little things that might get you in trouble and stopping 'em before they got bigger. She had a great nose for something that might be troublesome and that looked unimportant. And she would say, 'Now, if this happens, this is going to unravel in such and such a way,' and she was almost invariably right."

Edward F. Prichard's intelligence was vital to the vision that shaped Kentucky's future. His recollections in the Hellard interviews make for informative and entertaining reading. Of course the record consists of the entire milieu of the decades of his career, but we are fortunate to have his take on the events which he helped shape.

Oral history is a vital part of the process of biography. Kentucky is most fortunate to have the Kentucky Oral History Project underway, providing national leadership in this field.

And the gossip is wonderful.

Box 73/111 Water Street
Horse Cave, Kentucky 42749
Email: Tom Chaney

This story was posted on 2012-06-26 06:30:07
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