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Ben Chandler, Sun publisher, dies at 87

HAYWOOD ALVES, left, Ben Chandler, Moss Vance and Mildred Chandler display citations awarded by the Kentucky Press Association in 1967. (Woodford Sun photo)

Albert Benjamin “Ben” Chandler Jr., owner and publisher of The Woodford Sun, died Saturday, Oct. 22, 2016, at the age of 87 at his home in Versailles. He was the father of former U.S. Rep. Ben Chandler, and the son of the late Kentucky Gov. and Major League Baseball Commissioner A.B. “Happy” Chandler. He was born in Versailles on Aug. 8, 1929, the son of Albert and Mildred Watkins Chandler, and spent part of his childhood in the governor’s mansion. He attended school at the Little Outfit, a dude ranch near Patagonia, Ariz., eventually graduating from the Darlington School in Rome, Ga., and the University of Kentucky. He served as an intelligence officer in the U.S. Air Force during the Korean War. In 1957, Chandler took over as publisher of The Sun, which had been purchased by his father from the founding Bowmar family in 1942, and became one of the longest-tenured publishers in Kentucky history. He was joined in his endeavors by two close childhood friends, Robert Haywood Alves, who served as advertising manager from 1957 to 2008, and Henry Moss Vance, who served as managing editor from 1960 to 2001.

Ben Chandler (Woodford Sun photo)

Vance said he befriended Chandler as a boy in the early 1940s, and joined in many a softball and football game on the family’s property on Elm Street in Versailles. “His mother used to say that we were distinguishable but inseparable,” Vance said. He said Chandler spent his life “covering the news that was so important to the community. Where your tax dollars go, for example. He was a great friend and a great leader and the most marvelous person.” His popular column, Happy Landings, covered a wide variety of interests and topics, from politics and literature to sports, along with many personal anecdotes. He deliberately walked in the footsteps of the Bowmar brothers, Daniel and Aitchie, looking to their body of work for inspiration, and became the deepest living repository of knowledge of Woodford County’s history, familiar with all of its people, past and present. He immersed himself in The Sun’s old files and painstakingly transcribed them for the benefit of later generations. In 2012, he was inducted into the Kentucky Journalism Hall of Fame. “He has included aggressive coverage of planning, zoning, and development issues, a major focus of public concern in Woodford County during most of his tenure,” the biography that accompanied the induction stated. “Ben’s paper publishes more public records than most in Kentucky, and reaches a high percentage of households in the county.” The Hall of Fame said that his Happy Landings column “showed his editorial leadership through the weekly newspaper’s reliable, well-edited and comprehensive news pages.” One nominator wrote that “his sustained contributions are rare,” and another nominator called him “a true institution in the community.” Chandler’s son Whitney Chandler has served as publisher of the paper since 2014. Known for his sense of warmth and dignity, he also “had quite a sense of humor. He was very witty,” according to his son, Ben. Although he was the son of one politician and the father of another, “he didn’t really like the limelight,” said Ben, but he was avidly involved in the community and its affairs. He was a lifetime member of St. John’s Episcopal Church in Versailles. In addition to his wife, Lucie Dunlap “Toss” Chandler, he is survived by three sons, Albert Benjamin “Ben” Chandler III and his wife, Jennifer; Whitney Chandler and his wife, Shaoqian; and Matthew Chandler, all of Versailles, as well as four grandchildren, Lucie, Albert IV, Branham and Gaius. A niece, Erin Chandler, and “adopted daughter,” Karin Bonifant, also of Versailles, were constant companions in his later years. He was preceded in death by his sisters, Marcella Chandler Miller and Mildred “Mimi” Chandler Lewis, and his brother, Dan Chandler. Funeral services were conducted by Fr. Alan Sutherland Wednesday at Pisgah Presbyterian Church in Versailles. Burial was in Pisgah Cemetery.

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