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A lawmaker and a gentleman: Sen. Tom Buford remembered as loyal, highly-effective lawmaker who got things done — with kindness

By BOBBIE CURD

bjcurd@gmail.com 

Committed. Dedicated. Experienced. Strong leader. 

When speaking to those who worked with the late Sen. Tom Buford, those are common descriptions used by all. Others focus on the personal side of Sen. Buford, how loyal of a friend he was, how his infectious laughter brightened up any room, and why who he was as a person affected his strengths as a lawmaker of a different breed. 

Lawmakers speak out 

Sen. Buford, a Republican from Jessamine County, passed away July 6 at age 72. After representing the 22nd District in the Kentucky Senate for three decades, the state senator was known for taking on some tough issues with his vastly extensive legislative experience. He represented Garrard, Jessamine, Mercer and Washington Counties, along with part of Fayette. 

As one of the longest-serving members of the Kentucky Senate, Sen. Buford served as Majority Whip, Minority Caucus Chair and as chair of the Senate Banking Committee. He was a past member of several joint committees, including the  as Child Welfare Oversight Committee, which provides oversight to Medicaid, and a committee dedicated to health, welfare and family services. 

As news of his passing spread through the community las week, Kentucky officials released statements about the loss of Sen. Buford.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell called Sen. Buford “a giant of the Kentucky Senate.” He described how deeply committed Sen. Buford was Kentucky and to its people. 

“I was deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Tom Buford…who dedicated three decades of his life to public service. I had the pleasure of working closely with Tom and know how deeply committed he was to our state and its people. His sharp intellect and extensive legislative experience were legendary throughout the Kentucky political world,” McConnell said. 

“Tom was unafraid to take on tough issues and fought hard for Kentucky’s most vulnerable, with a special focus on the disabled. The impact of his work could be felt far beyond the borders of his State Senate district, improving the lives of Kentuckians throughout the Commonwealth. He uplifted our state through his dedicated leadership, not just as a civil servant, but also as a caring father and faithful Christian. Tom’s constituents, colleagues, and fellow Kentuckians are profoundly saddened by this loss. Elaine and I share our heartfelt condolences with Tom’s wife Carol, his daughter Stephanie, his son Beau, his grandchildren, and the entire Buford family,” McConnell added.

Sen. Damon Thayer of Georgetown, who served alongside Sen. Buford for more than 18 years, said his “keen wit, intelligence and institutional knowledge made him an invaluable member of our caucus. His unexpected death has left us shaken with the knowledge of how much he will be missed. The citizens of his district have been fortunate to have him represent them since 1990. Our thoughts go out to the members of his family at this indescribable loss.” 

Senate President Pro-Tempore David Givens of Greensburg spoke of Sen. Buford’s dedication and proud representation of his district. “He brought an abundance of insight and experience to some of the Commonwealth’s most complex issues” during his years of service. “His wit, intellect and zest for life will be missed by all who knew him.” 

State Auditor Mike Harmon said not only was Sen. Buford his state senator when he was first elected to the House, until the last round of redistricting, but he was “a valued friend and a mentor to me.”

“He was hardworking, talented and extremely committed,” House Speaker David Osborne of Prospect said, adding that Sen. Buford possessed “an institutional knowledge like no other.” 

He said Sen. Buford’s “sense of humor brought levity to many difficult situations, providing an opportunity to overcome differences and seek resolution. His passing is a great loss to the Kentucky General Assembly.”

Republicans weren’t the only ones speaking out about the loss, either. House Democratic Caucus leaders Joni Jenkins of Shivley, Derrick Graham of Frankfort, and Angie Hattonof Whitesburg released a statement. 

They say Sen. Buford had a profound impact on the Commonwealth, and they are proud to have worked with him “on bipartisan measures that are too numerous to count,” and that they join “with so many others in recognizing all the great things he stands for.

“Kentucky will be poorer without him,” the joint satement said.

Sen. Buford was known as a champion for Jessamine County, consistent in his efforts to make sure his hometown was always represented at the table, getting millions in funding back home where it was needed. And many locals he worked with say they will not only remember Sen. Buford for his ability to “get things done,” but for the way he did it.   

Compassion and selflessness 

“He was just a kind person,” said Wilmore Mayor Harold Rainwater. He describes Sen. Buford as a strong Republican who took office when the Democrats were in majority, back in 1991. 

“But he was able to get things done, because he was kind — and he knew how to work. He stayed consistent; he just knew how to do that.” 

Rainwater tells stories about how Sen. Buford would take the time to highlight significant birthdays, retirements or other events. 

“He would get a Kentucky Colonel certificate for them, or a Senate Citation and deliver it. One time, we had a lady who turned 100, he brought a Colonel and gave roses to her; he did a lot of things like that he didn’t need to, it was just who he was.” 

And, the mayor said, Sen. Buford was known for “always looking after Wilmore,” responsible for a lot of much-needed funding that came its way. 

“We were a small part of the county, but he always made sure we were at the table when the checks were available. He kept us apprised, literally into the millions of dollars he was able to get delivered to Wilmore and Jessamine County.” 

Timothy Brown said Sen. Buford will not only be missed by the many human hearts he touched, but by thousands of voiceless animals he helped save every year. Brown, director of Jessamine County Animal Care & Control, saw Sen. Buford as not only a committed public servant, but one who cared deeply about animal welfare. 

“He was a great man and an even better advocate for the animals of our community,” Brown said, and that he was imperative in the shelter’s success. “Just by his voice of influence through social media … challenging stories were able to be shared farther than we could have imagined.” 

Brown said Sen. Buford’s “leadership, his compassion, his selflessness and his fight will forever be remembered” by the animal shelter, and all those he touched through his work on behalf of it. 

Russ Meyer is currently the state parks commissioner, but also former mayor and city commissioner of Nicholasville, as well as a former state representative. The two met during Sen. Buford’s first year in office. 

“He was just always up for a task, always there to do the job for the people,” Meyer said. 

He recalls how Sen. Buford had heart bypass surgery about 14 years ago, but that it never stopped him. “He kept on working, continuing to do great things in our community, and stayed focused on it.” 

Meyer said he has too many stories he could tell about Sen. Buford, but what made him most special was the friendship he felt. “He was someone you could go to, and trust the things he told you. You could trust him in the political arena, I think is the thing we’ll miss most.” 

He highlights the many transportation projects affecting Jessamine County that Sen. Buford championed, “which have formed our community and made it what it is today. It’s one of the fastest-growing communities in the state, and he played a big, big part in that. We will see the fruits of his labors for a longtime coming.” 

Sen. Buford understood, Meyers said, what it took to keep the community viable. “And any community in his district. He understood that we were going to stay that way through public education, through public infrastructure, public safety and public health. He understood those fundamentals of politics, is what stood out to him more than anything.” 

But Meyers is quick to point out, “The most important thing I think I can say about him is he was a true community servant. He was a community servant first, and a politician second.” 

Mayor Rainwater seems to sum up what most were insinuating in every description of Sen. Buford as a man and lawmaker. “Whoever comes in, they have some big shoes to fill —  the old saying really fits here. We’ve lost a lot.”