KFC & John Y. Brown

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KFC & John Y. Brown. You don’t have to live in Kentucky to know what KFC is. You probably do have to live there to know who John Y. Brown is. Actually our paths crossed one time. In addition to that, John Y. Brown and KFC are actually connected.

Let me veer away from all of that for a short while. Inside of Kentucky, the talk is centered on neither one of those. The focus is on Derby Pie as in Kentucky Derby Pie. I was never in Louisville during Derby Week, thank goodness, but that doesn’t mean its essence is absent. It never is.

The in-place during Derby Week is the Galt House in Louisville. The in-place when it’s not Derby Week is the Galt House. When you stay there, you’ll discover two things. The home of Derby Pie, which is an insane brownie with a crust, and dollops of ice cream. If you add everything together, it totals 8,993 calories. The other thing in evidence is that people who stay at the Galt house always seem to be dressed for the Kentucky Derby, even in the middle of winter. Now I don’t mean the ladies break out their hats as they do at the Derby, but the sophistication of attire is still there, both men and women.

You’re sitting at the dinner table, looking around, and you’re convinced there are a bunch of well-known people. You can’t identify them but surely they must be well-known. Asking the waiter or waitress is a no-no. In fact I think it’s a sin of epic proportions.

With iPhones now, you could take pictures of those you suspect are well-known until management threw you out. With the Internet, surely there is a master list of well-known people that you compare pictures to.

Back to the subject at hand. There is an Executive Inn West and an Executive Inn East in Louisville. West had excellent food, and excellent music with the stereophonic violins I have mentioned before. I decided to eat there one night.

I got a phone call from a well-connected politician who asked me if I wanted to go hear John Y. Brown speak. John Y., as the natives called him, was running for governor. The speech was at Executive Inn East. I’d only have to cross the street when I finished eating, not even have to get in my car. I agreed.

Most people think Colonel Sanders took his pots and pans on the road, and convinced restaurants to franchise his chicken. That wasn’t quite the way it happened. Colonel Sanders was still lollygagging around his home base of Corbin, Kentucky just over the Tennessee line, trying to figure out how to put KFC on the map. John Y. and his law partner, and possibly one other person, all based in Louisville if memory serves, scrapped together a couple of mil to buy Colonel Sanders formula. From that point on Colonel Harlan became the front man for KFC, but only to the extent he was paid to appear, retaining no ownership in KFC. More than likely I don’t have to explain what happened to KFC after that.

John Y. decided to parlay his fame in Kentucky to the governor’s mansion in Frankfort. I have never been a fan of political speeches as I was about to be drawn into, but the friend who had invited me had done me some favors, and I thought it would be rude not to accept.

I’d had a delicious meal at Executive Inn West, crossed the street to East, where I planned to hook up with my friend. We did indeed locate each other just outside the large room where John Y. would hold forth.

In about five minutes here comes John Y. with his entourage, and a beautiful creature attached to his arm. Anybody who had bothered to enter Kentucky knew John Y. was married to the former Miss America Phyllis George. I didn’t pay too much attention to John Y, in fact would have had trouble identifying him if I had met him on the street later. My eyes froze on Phyllis.

John Y. is walking in the room to speak, and Phyllis decides she’ll wait outside, probably having heard the speech John Y. was going to make enough times to have it memorized.

My friend invited me to follow him into the room to hear John Y. Sometimes a person is faced with a tough decision, which takes an enormous amount of time to make, like one second. I was staying in the hallway to talk to Phyllis George. There’s friendship, and there’s Phyllis George. There are obligations you consider you might owe your friend, and there’s Phyllis George.

Phyllis George was a delightful individual with a terrific sense of humor. She was also very gracious. I knew that already from Kentucky people I had talked to. But sometimes people try to protect their own, and the person they are talking about is not nearly who they say that person is. Phyllis was 100% genuine.

Phyllis helped John Y. win the governorship. They had a number of years together when Phyllis, for whatever reason, decided to call a halt to their marriage.

I’m not about to call John Y. dumb, he had been governor (the two might not be mutually exclusive), but if I had been him, I would have been on my knees every night of my married life thanking God for my good fortune, and I don’t mean dollars.

Maybe John Y. thought he knew everything. I don’t know. In addition to her other attributes, Phyllis was very savvy and a good businesswoman. John Y. had sold out KFC for millions before he took over the governorship, and he may have thought that excluded him from the dumb club, but sometimes your brain is thinking, and your heart is shrinking.

For all I know John Y may be dead by now, but Phyllis is probably still alive. If John Y. did cash in his chips, I hope his grave marker says, “What might have been”.

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