Colleagues, family remember Virgil Pearman

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Former state legislator began political career on Radcliff City Council

By Sarah Bennett

Virgil Pearman was best known for his work as a homebuilder and his service in Kentucky’s General Assembly. But those closest to him recalled the late legislator as putting family first.

He grew up in a family with 14 siblings. The former state legislator and his wife of more than 50 years, Wilma, had seven children of their own and many grandchildren.

Hours after Pearman died Friday at age 78 at Hardin Memorial Hospital in Elizabethtown, Joe Pearman remembered his brother as a man who would rather have a grandchild bouncing on his knee than talk to the president.

“He took care of his family,” said Joe Pearman, a former LaRue County judge-executive.

That sense of caring didn’t stop at blood ties, according to Virgil’s former colleagues, friends and family.

“He would help anybody, whether for him, against him or out of his district,” said Glen Dalton, former Hardin County judge-executive and longtime friend of Virgil Pearman’s.

“He couldn’t stand to see anyone suffer,” Joe Pearman said. “When you come from a family of 14, you learn to be humble.”

Virgil Pearman died around 11:15 a.m. Friday.

According to Joe Pearman, Virgil’s health had been declining for some time but took a severe hit three weeks ago when he fell, breaking his leg just below the hip. The break required hospitalization and surgery.

Other health complications set in, his brother said, and Virgil spent his last few days on life support. On Friday morning, the family decided to take him off the machine.

Originally from LaRue County, Pearman started his career as a public official in 1966 when he was elected to city council in Radcliff, where he lived for more than 50 years.

“He and I both believed there were things happening that we could change,” Joe Pearman said about Virgil’s decision to enter politics. “You could not just stand on the sideline.”

Eventually Virgil went on to serve multiple terms in the state House of Representatives and one term in the state Senate before leaving office in 1993.

“I always voted for him,” said state Rep. Jimmie Lee, D-Elizabethtown. “He was an honest person. He always told it how it was and never beat around the bush.”

As a representative from Radcliff, Virgil always was working for veterans, Joe Pearman said, and he worked hard to improve roads as well as sewer and water lines.

Dalton recalled Pearman’s contribution to the construction and completion of Ky. 313 and Lincoln Parkway.

After the 1988 Carrollton bus crash, Pearman became closely associated with DUI legislation. Two of the 27 fatalities in the drunken driving wreck on Interstate 71 were his relatives, including the bus driver. Pearman had three other relatives among the survivors of the fiery crash.

“I always take up the tough issues,” he told a reporter in 1990. “If I believe in it, I’m going to take on the issue and fight for the people back home.”

Joe Pearman remembered his brother as a politician who was constantly campaigning, knocking on doors and shaking hands, regardless of whether it was an election year.

However, Pearman’s career was not without at least one dark spot. In 1993, he resigned from the House after details of a federal investigation became public. He was one of three state legislators who admitted to accepting illegal cash contributions from Humana, which was seeking legislation to relax hospital expansion laws related to Jefferson County. Pearman ultimately pleaded guilty to mail fraud.

“I’m very embarrassed about it,” the legislator said in court. “And the worst hurt about it is my family had to go through this and my friends. I’m very sorry for that. I made a mistake. I accept full responsibility for it.”

Outside of politics, Pearman was an avid farmer and builder. He owned V.L. Pearman Builder & Development in Radcliff and served as one of the first presidents of the Lincoln Trail Home Builders Association.

Pearman’s funeral is at 11 a.m. Monday at First Baptist Church, 730 Tonieville Road in Hodgenville, with the Rev. Gene Waggoner and John McGuffey officiating. Burial follows in North Hardin Memorial Gardens in Radcliff.

Visitation is noon to 8 p.m. today and after 9 a.m. Monday at Bennett-Bertram Funeral Home in Hodgenville.

Speaking between flights from the Detroit airport Friday, former state Sen. Joe Prather said Pearman “was a very effective member of the General Assembly. ... Bottom line, he was just a good man.”

Sarah Bennett can be reached at (270) 505-1750 or sbennett@thenewsenterprise.com.