The guest speaker for Monday's Market House Museum tribute to Alben W. Barkley, Kentucky's first Senate party leader, was someone familiar with the job requirements: Sen. Mitch McConnell, current Senate Republican leader.
McConnell traced Barkley's career from his first race for county attorney in McCracken County to distinguished service in the U.S. House of Representatives, the Senate, and as President Harry Truman's vice president.
"He was one of a handful of the most important senators we've ever sent to Washington," McConnell said of Barkley's leadership of the Democratic Party from 1937 to 1949.
Barkley was born in Graves County in 1877. As a youth he learned hard work in the tobacco fields and began pursuing his story-telling persona, McConnell said.
From his first victory as county attorney, it was clear Barkley truly enjoyed and empathized with people, McConnell said.
"He used to say good story-telling is like fine Kentucky bourbon," McConnell said. "It improves with age and if you don't use too much of it, it could never hurt anyone."
Barkley held several positions throughout his career. He was elected as a Democrat to the 63rd Congress and elected to the six succeeding Congresses (1913-1927). He became Democratic majority leader of the Senate (1937-1947) and Democratic minority leader in 1947 and 1948. He served as vice president during Truman's second term from 1949-1953.
He was again elected to the Senate in 1955 and served until his death in 1956, when he collapsed and died at a mock convention at Washington and Lee University in Lexington.
The roar of the crowd was the last thing he heard in response to his comment that he would rather be "a servant in the house of the Lord than sit in the seats of the mighty," McConnell recalled.
Lake Barkley and Barkley Dam are named in his honor.
"He was one of the greatest legislators of all times in the Senate, in the history of Kentucky, and in the history of Paducah," McConnell said.
Contact David Zoeller, a Paducah Sun staff writer, at 270-575-8676.