Remembering Clyde Middleton: Former Kenton Judge/Executive Dies at 91
Former Kenton County Judge/Executive Clyde Middleton has died at the age of 91.
The longtime state senator and local leader played a significant role in shaping the county and Northern Kentucky.
"His impact on Kenton County is immense, and in so many ways," said his son, John Middleton, the Kenton County Circuit Court Clerk. "I think one of the things that stands out, especially in today's world, is he was able to work across party lines."
John Middleton said his father died Friday surrounded by family and friends after battling prostate and bone cancer.
Clyde Middleton first won elective office in a special election for state senate in 1967, serving a district 24, which at the time included Kenton and Boone counties. He served until losing a reelection bid in 1986. In 1990, he was elected to Kenton County's top office, judge/executive, the first Republican to win that seat.
In 1998, he resigned the position following reports that he met with Corporex founder and chairman Bill Butler and showed him confidential bids from other developers when the county was looking to build a new courthouse. Kenton County paid $850,000 to other developers who lost out on the bid in the aftermath of the controversy. Middleton would testify to a grand jury over the matter in order to avoid a possible prison sentence.
John Middleton said his father was at peace with what happened.
"It probably saved his life," John Middleton said of his father. "He was diagnosed with congestive heart failure and the doctor said, you've got two years to live unless you stop drinking - they'd go for Manhattans after fiscal court meetings - and do some exercise and reduce stress. The whole situation was very stressful for him.
"Even though it was the most difficult thing to do at the time, it was the right thing to do for him."
Following his resignation, Middleton began volunteering at the Parish Kitchen serving meals. Someone asked whether it was part of his plea agreement, but the answer was no: Middleton just wanted to serve the community.
"Some people do things because they want to be recognized. They want people to say, oh, I like this person because they're doing this," John Middleton said. "Mom and Dad did things because it was the right thing to do."
Clyde Middleton met his future wife, Mary, in Hawaii while he was in the U.S. Navy. She, too, was a well-liked figure in Northern Kentucky civic and political groups, possibly most-known for her efforts to raise funds - and ringing the bell - for the Salvation Army. She died in an accident in 2011.
Middleton was from northern Ohio and after high school, his academic pursuits were met with rocky roads. At Case Institute of Technology, now Case Western Reserve University, the future legislator nearly flunked out. That's when he decided instead to join the Navy and went to train in Chicago. He was later admitted to the US Naval Academy, graduated, and began working for Procter and Gamble.
That company eventually brought him to their headquarters for a position in Cincinnati.
That decision led the Middletons to Northern Kentucky.
"The story goes that they landed at the airport and mom saw how beautiful and green Northern Kentucky was and decided to stay," John Middleton said. "I think the real reason was, it was a heck of a lot cheaper to live in Northern Kentucky and mom was always very frugal."
In their new home, Middleton jumped into politics, despite being a non-native Lutheran Republican in a region where roots ran deep and Catholic churches dominated, and that was, at the time, predominantly Democratic.
After some unsuccessful bids for office, Middleton won a seat to the Kentucky Senate in 1967. Among his notable successes as a lawmaker on behalf of Northern Kentucky, was the creation of Northern Kentucky University, the move of Chase College of Law to NKU, and the creation of the Kenton County Public Library.
As a Republican, Middleton worked with Democrats to accomplish these goals.
John Middleton said that his father lay dying at Rosedale in Latonia, he received a number of text messages from Democratic friends, who called Clyde their favorite Republican.
Clyde and Mary Middleton witnesses the transformation of Northern Kentucky in a political way, too, changing from a Democratic bastion to a Republican stronghold. The Kenton County Republican Party's most coveted award is named for the Middletons.
"Clyde Middleton was the rock upon which the foundation of today's county GOP was established," said Rick Robinson, an attorney and author, who worked for many years with then-Congressman Jim Bunning.
Current Kenton County Judge/Executive Kris Knochelmann said he was grateful for Middleton's leadership in the region and service to the country.
"Judge Middleton was always kind and patient with me and always treated me with respect," Knochelmann wrote in a Facebook post. "Clyde always had a positive outlook, always made kind comments about what was going on, and showed how to be a great public servant, loyal and supportive spouse, and a loving parent. We are better because Clyde shared his time with us and happy that he finally has his place with his wonderful wife Mary."
"This is dad's obituary, but it's a lasting legacy of this couple," John Middleton said of his parents. "Most people, when they talk about it, they talk about Clyde and Mary. There's a reason for that. They were the couple that did things together."
"One of the lessons as a son that he taught me was to be a good loser. To me, that is one of the best life lessons because in life, bad things are going to happen to you. Some are minor, you might lose a boyfriend or girlfriend, or you might lose a job, or you might have to resign as judge/executive. You might not be in the position you want to be in, but how you react to those things is how your life is going to be - and it started with dad at a young age."
Clyde W. Middleton, 91, of Ft. Mitchell, KY, passed away on July 12, 2019 at Rosedale Green in Covington, KY. He was a Kentucky State Senator from 1967-1986 and served as a Kenton County Judge Executive 1990-1998. Clyde was a veteran of the United States Navy and a longtime member of Gloria Dei Lutheran Church. He was preceded in death by his wife, Mary Ann Middleton in 2011 and his two sisters. Clyde is survived by his children, Ann (Jack) Schmidt of Orlando, FL, David (Laverne) Middleton of Lexington, KY, Richard (Carol) Middleton of Ft. Mitchell, KY, and John (Janet) Middleton of Erlanger, KY. He also leaves behind his 8 grandchildren, Dustin and Bridget Schmidt, Alex and Rachael Middleton, Kelsey and Kyle Middleton, and Joey and Will Middleton. Visitation will be on Saturday, July 20, 2019 from 9:00AM-12:00PM at Gloria Dei Lutheran Church in Crestview Hills, KY. The funeral service for Clyde will immediately follow the visitation at 12:00PM at the church. The family has asked that in lieu of flowers, please donate to: The Clyde and Mary Middleton Fund of the Greater Cincinnati Foundation, 200 West Fourth St. Cincinnati, OH 45202. Online Condolences to: www.linnemannfuneralhomes.com.
Written by Michael Monks, editor & publisher
Black and white photos via Kenton County Public Library
Other photos provided by family