Printed from:

Welcome to Columbia Magazine  

Today is 25th anniversary of Gov. Bert Combs drowning death

Kentucky's 50th Governor one of Kentucky's greatest. During his tenure, December 8, 1959-December 10, 1963, he was a champion of public schools. He also established Kentucky's superb state community college system, increased highway funding, improved State Parks significantly, and established Kentucky's First Human Rights Commission
Click on headline for completed story

Story From National Weather Service

On December 3, 1991, after calling his wife to let her know he would be late coming home, Combs left his Lexington law office about 5:30 pm. After several hours passed he was reported missing. Law enforcement and hundreds of local people searched for the former governor.

The following day his partially submerged car was spotted in the swollen Red River near Rosslyn in Powell County just several hundred feet from the parkway that bore his name.

Temperatures had been in the 30s when Combs drove into the floodwaters. The rain that had been falling changed to snow overnight as the mercury fell into the 20s.

Combs' body was found the next day, about a quarter mile downstream of his car, still clinging to a tree root on the edge of the stream.

He was not wearing his coat or shoes, possibly from trying to swim to safety. He was 80 years old, and is buried in Beech Creek Cemetery in Manchester.

Bertram Thomas Combs' biographical information

Bertram Thomas Combs was born August 13, 1911 in Manchester, Kentucky. One of seven kids, he was very intelligent and skipped grades to graduate from high school as valedictorian at the age of 15.

In the early 1930s he worked for the state highway department where he earned enough money to go to the University of Kentucky's College of Law. He graduated 2nd in his class in 1937 and was admitted to the bar. He briefly returned to Clay County to practice law before moving to a law firm in Prestonburg in 1938.

In World War II he was sent to the Philippines where, as a lieutenant, he was chief of the War Crimes Investigation Department. At the end of the conflict he was awarded a Bronze Star for apprehending and prosecuting Japanese war criminals. He then returned to practicing law in Prestonburg.

His first political position was as City Attorney for Prestonburg in 1950. The following year he won a spot on the Kentucky Court of Appeals.

In 1955 Combs was selected to run for governor against A.B. "Happy" Chandler. Combs' inexperience, uninspiring oratory, and suggestion to raise taxes were significant factors in his defeat. He returned to practicing law in Prestonburg.

Four years later Combs ran again for governor, this time winning by a landslide. He was Kentucky's 50th governor, the first governor from eastern Kentucky in over 30 years, and the Commonwealth's first governor who was a World War II veteran.

While governor, he:

  • Increased public school funds by 50%

  • Established the state community college system

  • Significantly increased funding for highways

  • Enabled major renovations of the state parks

  • Formed Kentucky's first Human Rights Commission and ordered the desegregation of all public accommodations
After leaving office Combs returned to practicing law in Prestonburg. He spent the next couple of decades involved in politics and law interests. He was instrumental in the creation of 1990's Kentucky Education Reform Act. The act was aimed at equalizing funding among school districts and implementing strict accountability standards.

This story was posted on 2016-12-03 04:07:46
Printable: this page is now automatically formatted for printing.
Have comments or corrections for this story? Use our contact form and let us know.

(AD) - Many Reunion organizing efforts are also advertised in our REUNIONS category in our CM Classifeds. These are posted at a very low cost. See RATES & TERMS

To sponsor news and features on ColumbiaMagazine, please use our contact form.


Quick Links to Popular Features content is available as an RSS/XML feed for your RSS reader or other news aggregator.
Use the following link:

Contact us: Columbia Magazine and are published by D'Zine, Ltd., PO Box 906, Columbia, KY 42728.
Phone: 270-250-2730 Fax: 270-751-0401

Please use our contact page, or send questions about technical issues with this site to All logos and trademarks used on this site are property of their respective owners. All comments remain the property and responsibility of their posters, all articles and photos remain the property of their creators, and all the rest is copyright 1995-Present by Columbia! Magazine and D'Zine, Ltd. Privacy policy: use of this site requires no sharing of information. Voluntarily shared information may be published and made available to the public on this site and/or stored electronically. Anonymous submissions will be subject to additional verification. Cookies are not required to use our site. However, if you have cookies enabled in your web browser, some of our advertisers may use cookies for interest-based advertising across multiple domains. For more information about third-party advertising, visit the NAI web privacy site.