University of Kentucky

Hall of Distinguished Alumni

Bert T. Combs

Born in Manchester, Ky., August 13, 1911. Died, December 4, 1991. Attorney. Judge. Governor of Kentucky. University of Kentucky, LL.B., 1937.

He graduated from Clay County High School at age 15, ranking first in his class, but did not begin college until 1929, when he went to Cumberland College at Williamsburg for two years (Cumberland was a junior college at the time). He then worked as a clerk for the State Highway Department for three years to obtain funds for his law school education. He was managing editor of the "Kentucky Law Journal" and graduated second in his class in 1937. He was named a member of the Order of the Coif, the highest honor given a law graduate.

He practiced law in his hometown of Manchester and in Prestonsburg, until 1942, when he enlisted as a Private in the U.S. Army. During his service in World War II, he attained the rank of Captain and saw service in the South Pacific on General Douglas MacArthur's staff. He became Chief of the War Crimes Department's Investigating Section in the Philippine Islands, and was awarded the Bronze Star and the Medal of Merit (Philippine Island).

Following resumption of the practice of law in Prestonsburg, he served as City Attorney and later as Commonwealth's Attorney. He was President of the Junior Bar Association of Kentucky, 1946-47. In 1951, he was appointed to a judgeship on the Kentucky Court of Appeals and was elected to a full eight-year term. The University awarded him an honorary Doctor of Laws degree in 1961.

He resigned from the court in 1955 to run his first campaign for governor. He lost the election and practiced law until elected to the governorship four years later, in 1959. Upon completion of his term in the governorship in 1963, he again entered the practice of law and was appointed a judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth District by President Johnson in 1967.

In 1964, he was named Kentucky's outstanding attorney for his service to the legal profession. He was visiting professor in the Political Science Department at the University of Massachusetts during the spring semester of 1964.

Immediately following his resignation as judge of the Sixth District on June 5, 1970, he became a member of the Louisville-based firm of Tarrant, Combs and Bullitt.

He has been a member of several professional, civic and fraternal organizations, and has maintained a deep interest in programs for handicapped children. In 1963, he received the Joseph P. Kennedy International Award for "outstanding contributions and leadership in the field of mental retardations."

Bert T. Combs was named to the Hall of Distinguished Alumni in February 1965.