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The man who Gov. Steve Beshear said understood state government “at a near-molecular level” died unexpectedly on Sunday.
Mike Haydon, 62, reportedly died of a heart attack around lunch time on Sunday.
Haydon was serving as Beshear’s chief of staff.
“Jane and I will always be grateful for his dedication, counsel, knowledge and sense of humor,” Beshear said in a released statement. “We have not only lost a man who dedicated his life to improving the future for Kentuckians; we have also lost one of our best friends.”
Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway also issued a statement about Haydon.
“Mike Haydon was a savvy, intelligent, professional who served at many levels of government, and the people of the Commonwealth benefitted greatly from his dedication,” Conway said. “ I knew Mike for more than 15 years, and am shocked by his passing.”
State Senator Jimmy Higdon said that Haydon was one of the more seasoned members of the Beshear administration and served as a mentor to many of the younger staffers.
“I talked to them today,” Higdon said on Monday via phone interview. “They’re really taking this hard.”
Haydon’s understanding of state government came through holding various positions as a public servant.
According to Springfield City Administrator Laurie Smith, Haydon started in the late 70s and early 80s with the Lincoln Trail and Buffalo Trace Area Development Districts.
From 1983 through ‘85, he worked as city administrator in Springfield.
In 1985, he became the property valuation administrator (PVA).
“Before his PVA term had ended, he was called to Frankfort and worked in Frankfort for four administrations: Governors Jones, Wilkinson, Patton and Beshear,” according to Smith.
Prior to that, he had also worked with the Martha Layne Collins administration. When Ernie Fletcher was elected governor, Haydon worked with House Majority Floor Leader Rocky Adkins as chief of staff.
Haydon also served on the city council from Jan. of 1994 until July of 1996.
In 2003, he became mayor of Springfield. He served as mayor until Dec. of 2006.
During that time, he worked on the East High Street redevelopment project, Footprints to the Park, the redevelopment of the downtown supermarket building (which is now home to Mordecai’s on Main), the redevelopment of the Opera House and theatre, the Farmers Market at the Depot, water line expansions, the reuse of The Sutton Place and developed a curbside recycling program for city residents.
“Mike was bigger than life, his energy was enormous and he was my mentor, too,” Smith said.
In total, Haydon spent more than 30 years in public service at the state and local level.
Higdon said the best way to describe Haydon was as a true public servant.
He also said that Haydon never let politics get in the way when working together.
When they worked on an issue together, Higdon said Haydon treated it not as a Republican or Democrat issue, but as a Commonwealth of Kentucky issue - something that Beshear often says.
“That’s how Mike operated,” Higdon said. “Politics never came into play when Mike Haydon and I had a conversation about an issue.”
Haydon will be missed at the state level in not only the short term, but the long term, Higdon said.
“His leadership and his behind the scenes work is pretty amazing,” Higdon said.
Beshear announced on Monday that a memorial for Haydon will be held at the Capitol Rotunda on Wednesday from 2:30 p.m. until 4:30 p.m. A memorial service will begin at 3:30 p.m.
“After talking with Mike’s family, we felt it was appropriate to hold a memorial here in the Capitol, where Mike had spent so many years working for the people of our state,” said Beshear. “This was truly his home away from home, and there are many people who will want to pay their respects to our good friend. We miss him terribly already.”
Visitation will be at Hale-Polin-Robinson Funeral Home on Thursday from 4 p.m. until 8 p.m.
The funeral will be Friday at 10:30 a.m. at St. Dominic Church.