Former top Beshear administration official J. Michael Brown dies, governor says

J. Michael Brown, a long-time advisor to the Beshears, has died, Gov. Andy Beshear announced Saturday morning.

“I am truly hurting over the loss of my long-time friend and advisor,” Beshear said in a statement. “Michael made a positive difference in the lives of so many people — including mine. His guidance and advice were unmatched, and so was his friendship. Throughout his career, he served our country and state with poise and decency.

“Those who really knew Michael were truly blessed.”

In December, Brown and his wife Joan were honorary co-chairs of Beshear’s second inauguration.

Brown served as Beshear’s secretary of the Executive Cabinet from 2019 to 2022, and also served in the administration of former Gov. Steve Beshear as the secretary of the Justice and Public Safety Cabinet, making him the first African American to hold that position.

Brown was also the deputy attorney general for Andy Beshear during his term as attorney general.

A native New Yorker born in 1950, Brown earned his undergraduate degree from City College of New York before going on to join the Army, according to the University of Kentucky’s Notable Kentucky African Americans Database. It was his military service that would bring him to Kentucky, where he was stationed at Fort Campbell with the 101st Airborne Division.

Brown earned his law degree from the University of Louisville in 1979, according to the Louis D. Brandeis School of Law website.

Throughout his career, Brown was a district court judge in Jefferson County, law director for the city of Louisville, an assistant commonwealth’s attorney and a lawyer in private practice, the U of L website says.

The Kentucky Department of Public Advocacy named Brown its 2015 winner of its Nelson Mandela Award, which recognizes a lifetime of achievement.

There was a bipartisan outpouring of support Saturday following news of Brown’s death.

“J. Michael Brown completed his public service on the KY State Board of Elections, where he served with devotion and distinction, and was nonpartisan, courtly, and a kind soul,” Secretary of State Michael Adams wrote on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter. “He will be missed by all. Condolences to his family.”

“I’m saddened by the news of Sec. J. Michael Brown’s passing,” Senate Judiciary Chair Whitney Westerfield, R- Fruit Hill, posted. “He was the first Justice Secretary with whom I served during my time in the Senate, someone I respected and trusted. Please keep his loved ones in your prayers.”

Louisville Mayor Craig Greenberg said online that the city and all of Kentucky have “suffered a great loss” with Brown’s passing.

“He served Louisville, our commonwealth and our country and he made a difference,” he wrote. “To know him was to love him.”

According to Beshear’s announcement, Brown is survived by his wife Joan and their children.

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