VERSAILLES, Ky. -- Former governor Louie B. Nunn who in his four-year term oversaw a revamping of the state mental health care system, died Thursday, apparently of a heart attack. He was 79.
Mr. Nunn launched his political career in 1954, winning election at age 29 as a county judge. His four-year gubernatorial term, beginning in 1967, saw Kentucky take strides in its care of the mentally retarded, the mentally ill, and juvenile delinquents.
On his watch, a network of 22 mental health centers was completed and, for the first time in Kentucky history, all four state psychiatric hospitals were fully accredited. Mr. Nunn later called the revamping his proudest accomplishment.
The state's university system was also expanded during his term and discrimination in housing was outlawed.
Mr. Nunn could be ruthless. Shortly after taking office, his staff fired thousands of state employees who were covered by the merit system.
All were Democrats and most were in departments that were traditional strongholds of patronage.
A lawsuit ensued and courts declared the firings illegal. They eventually cost the state $2 million in settlements.
He lost two other races for governor -- to Edward T. Breathitt in 1963 and to John Y. Brown Jr. in 1979. He was the GOP nominee for US Senate in 1972 but lost to Democrat Walter "Dee" Huddleston.