Listening to Joe Prather’s speak in his precise, measure baritone voice, it’s hard to think of him as an upstart.
But that’s what he was in November 1967 when he challenged incumbent legislator Martin Louis Straney for the state representative’s seat. After all, Prather was a young businessman barely a decade removed from graduation at Vine Grove High School.
Few could have predicted the impact he would have in the next half century.
An oft-recounted story from that campaign — perhaps more apocryphal than verifiable — is Straney telling supporters that during his door-to-door campaigning, he repeatedly heard that Prather already had called upon those voters. Sometimes as many as three times before the incumbent made his rounds.
It’s a story about dedication and hard work that fits well into the Prather life story, which was celebrated recently by the Lincoln Heritage Council of the Boy Scouts of America. A former Scout himself, Prather is the latest recipient of its annual Distinguish Citizen Award.
After three terms in the state House, Prather transitioned to the state Senate and became a force in the Kentucky legislature. As Senate president pro-tem, which then was the title for the ranking member of the majority party, Prather was an insider. His relationships and skillful negotiations helped shape state policy. He would go on to serve as chairman of successful gubernatorial campaigns for Martha Layne Collins in 1983 and Brereton Jones in 1991. He was state finance secretary in the Jones administration and returned to state government in 2007 as transportation secretary at the request of Gov. Steve Beshear. He also served as a member of the Democratic National Committee.
His political career was not without setbacks. Campaigns for lieutenant governor and U.S. representatives did not end as he had hoped.
As many of his friends know, he responded just as before, by working hard away from the limelight. In doing so, he solidified his reputation as a public servant. Leadership stints with the Elizabethtown Industrial Foundation and the resurgent Hardin Memorial Health Foundation are among the ways he’s continued to work for his community and fellow man.
When work began on a new road to provide Fort Knox with improved access to Interstate 65, a fellow legislator mindful of Prather’s dedication proposed naming it for him.
Prather often shares an amusing anecdote regarding that honor. It seems a young restaurant cashier, noticing his name on a credit card, asked Prather if his parents named him after the road.
His legacy extends far beyond the reach of any road and it’s more significant than any one award can represent, but this scouting honor comes close.
Once the young upstart, Joe Prather truly has become a Distinguished Citizen of Hardin County.
This editorial represents a consensus of The News-Enterprise editorial board.