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A lifetime of work in politics and government began for Radcliff resident Les Dawson when he was growing up in West Point.
Dawson, 83, recalls being as young as 7 when his grandmother — who he described as a “strong Democrat” — would take him along with her on local government visits.
“She knew everybody in the courthouse,” he said of his weekly trips there.
When he was about 10, candidates would give him a dollar to hand out campaign cards during election time. By the time he was 15 or 16, he was making visits to Frankfort because his father had done work in the area and Dawson was interested in the legislature.
It’s no surprise, then, Dawson has spent his life serving in government, under eight governors in Kentucky, and has served as chairman of the Democratic Executive Committee in Hardin County.
“I never wanted to do anything but serve the Democratic Party in state government,” he said, noting he was interested in serving professionally, not politically.
The bottom line as far as his service, he said, was getting things done despite party lines.
Earning a bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of Kentucky in 1950, Dawson served in the U.S. Army from May 1951 to January 1954. Following graduate school, during which he was a student intern under former Gov. Lawrence Wetherby, he began serving in state government June 1954 as a position classifier in the department of finance.
Dawson saw some historic changes as he began working in government.
“The big thing was the abolishment of segregation,” he said.
Segregation, he said, had not been acknowledged by his grandmother who provided an open home to everyone equally.
“At a time when segregation was at its height, she said ‘baloney,’” Dawson said.
Dawson remembered when President Dwight D. Eisenhower began the interstate system in 1956.
“It was fantastic,” he said.
The interstate project provided nine federal dollars for every one dollar of state money, Dawson said.
“Most of the roads around Radcliff, I participated in doing some of them or all of them,” he said.
Some 20 years later, the state received the right-of-way to construct Ky. 62, Dawson spearheaded efforts to get the work done.
“And it turned out fine,” he said.
Through the years Dawson also served state government in various capacities under governors A.B. “Happy” Chandler, Bert Combs, Edward Breathitt, Louis Nunn, Martha Layne Collins, John Y. Brown Jr. and Julian Carroll.
Among his state government roles, Dawson was assistant budget director in the department of finance, business manager for the department of highways, commissioner of the department of economic security, secretary of the department of human resources and secretary of the transportation cabinet.
At times the work in state government involved “duplicitous” personalities and political candidates with elements of selfishness, Dawson said. He felt his contribution was in providing an honest and straightforward administration of his duties for residents of Hardin, LaRue and Meade counties.
Dawson also felt fortunate when he could help out area residents who came to him needing work.
As the chairman for the Hardin County Democratic Executive Committee, Dawson provided his knowledge, experience and support to campaigns and candidates. Current chairman Bob Moore cited Dawson’s “65 to 70 years of knowledge of the Democratic Party in Hardin County” as a factor that made his leadership so valuable.
Moore said filling the role Dawson left will be challenging.
“I never expect to have all the institutional knowledge Les has,” he said.
Dawson’s personality is marked by a quick wit, Moore said.
Moore’s wife, Dottye, also noted Dawson’s wit and characterized him as a hard-working, enthusiastic and outgoing individual.
“No matter what you’re doing, he shows up, and it’s a lot more fun,” Dottye said.
Robert Villanueva can be reached at (270) 505-1743 or email@example.com.
THE NONPARTISAN FACTS ON LES DAWSON:
City of birth: Louisville
City of residence: Radcliff
Family: Wife, Ella Lois Todd Dawson; daughter, Sara Robeson; two grandchildren
Favorite music: Classical, opera
Favorite books: History, biography
Favorite TV shows: Kentucky Educational Television; “Pawn Stars,” “American Pickers,” The History Channel
Hobbies: Geneaology; fishing; attending theater
The Hardin County Democratic Party hosts a Les Dawson Appreciation Dinner at 6 p.m. Saturday at Highland Sod Farm, 1377 Hutcherson Lane, Elizabethtown. Current and past state officials scheduled to take part in the roast-style event are Adam Edelen, auditor of public accounts; Jonathan Miller, secretary of finance; Todd Hollenback, state treasurer; and Joe Prather, former state senator. Other officials have sent in remarks. Tickets for the nonpartisan event cost $20 and can be purchased by calling Bob or Dottye Moore at (270) 723-0379 or (270) 737-5595.