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Wilson W. Wyatt, Sr., Politician and Philanthropist

Speak of politics and even history in Louisville and the subject of this Et Cetera may spring to mind.

Wilson Watkins Wyatt, Sr. was born November 21, 1905. He grew up in the Highlands neighborhood and attended both the University of Louisville and the Jefferson School of Law. He became an attorney at just 21 years-old and was counsel for the Courier-Journal and other Bingham family enterprises before entering into politics.

Wilson Wyatt became Louisville’s wartime mayor in 1941 and was the youngest mayor in the history of the city.

Considered to be one of Louisville’s most progressive leaders, Wyatt set up the Louisville Area Development Association (LADA), which created the occupational tax and the Metropolitan Sewer District (MSD). He was also responsible for the first combined city-county planning commission.

Even before his term ended, Washington called Wilson Wyatt to the national arena.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt chose him to lead the Board of Economic Welfare’s mission to Africa. And in between practicing law in Louisville, he was Czar of Housing under President Truman … and President Kennedy made him a mediator to Indonesia, which helped avoid an international oil crisis.

Elected in 1959, Wilson Wyatt served one term as Kentucky’s lieutenant governor, and his partnership with Governor Bert Combs has been referred to as one of the greatest in state government.

After 1968, Wilson Wyatt never again held a public office. Instead he focused on philanthropy and helping to train Louisville’s next generation of leaders, including co-founding Leadership Louisville. He also served on the boards of Bellarmine University and the University of Louisville, where the School of Law building is named in his honor.

Additional facts about Wilson W. Wyatt, Sr.:

  • His first case was a divorce settlement that netted him a whopping … $14!
  • He married Anne Kinnaird Duncan in 1930. The couple had three children: Mary Anne, Nancy and Wilson Junior.
  • From 1930-1934, Wilson Wyatt was secretary of the Louisville Bar Association.
  • Wyatt helped found Americans for Democratic Action (ADA) and was the organization’s first chairman.
  • As mayor, Wilson Wyatt, Sr., appointed the first African American to the Library Board and formed the first mixed race rationing boards. He also was a big supporter of equal pay for equal work.
  • He was founding chairman of the Louisville Metropolitan Area Defense Council, which took on international importance during WWII.
  • He was Adlai Stevenson’s presidential campaign manager in 1952. He also helped Stevenson with his campaign in 1956.
  • Wilson Wyatt lost a Senate race to fellow Louisvillian Thruston B. Morton in 1962.
  • Bellarmine University is home of the Wyatt Lecture Series, Wyatt Center for the Arts, and the Anne D. Wyatt Black Box Theater.
  • Wilson Wyatt, Sr. died in 1996. He is buried in Cave Hill Cemetery.

For more on Wilson Wyatt, Sr. watch his interview from KET’s 1977 Distinguished Kentuckian program.

Program 408
A simple photo assignment that evolved into a decades-long relationship is presented in this edition of "Louisville Life". Also in this program, an Autism expert from the University of Louisville, and the first non-American to be track announcer at Churchill Downs. (#408)