A former top judge and Republican gubernatorial candidate in Kentucky perished under mysterious circumstances on Thursday.
Tom Emberton, who once served as chief justice of Kentucky’s Court of Appeals, reportedly died in an early morning house fire, according to the Associated Press.
Saved his wife but unable to save himself
The 90-year-old former judge from Edmonton had reportedly helped his wife escape the blaze and then returned to the fiery structure to try and save his home but never reemerged.
According to Edmonton Mayor Doug Smith, it is believed that the house fire was accidental.
Emberton was a lawyer who unsuccessfully ran for governor in Kentucky in 1971 and was later appointed to the state’s Court of Appeals in 1987, from which he retired in 2004. He was twice re-elected to that position and was named by his fellow judges on the appeals court as the panel’s chief justice, the AP noted.
Mayor mourns the tragic loss
“He heroically rescued his wife and got her to safety. Then he went back in to save his home and lost his life,” Mayor Smith told local ABC affiliate WBKO of Emberton.
“Tom was just the greatest guy in the world to be around. He was infectious to everybody,” the mayor added. “He had a way about him that was really special.”
The outlet noted that Emberton and Smith had been friends and fishing partners for many years, and Smith said in a formal statement, “Today, Kentucky lost a great father, husband, friend and statesman in a tragic accidental house fire.”
He went on to praise Emberton’s “wisdom, kindness, and always sage advice,” as well as his “ability to mediate and compromise,” and offered his sincere condolences to his friend’s wife, Julia, and their two adult children, Laura and Tom Jr., and their own families.
McConnell grieves over the death of a longtime friend
Another longtime personal friend of Emberton was Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), who expressed in a statement how “heartbroken” he was by Emberton’s tragic death and how “Tom gave me one of my earliest experiences in the rough and tumble reality of political campaigning, hiring me to work on his 1971 gubernatorial campaign.”
“He taught me valuable lessons on public service and running as a statewide Republican in Kentucky,” the senator continued. “Tom advocated for conservative values across our state and played a key role in organizing Kentucky Republicans at every level, paving the way for me and so many other conservatives to follow in his footsteps.”
“Tom was a model gentleman, a devoted husband, and a wonderful father, grandfather, and great-grandfather. Our prayers are with Julia Lee, their children Laura and Tom Jr., their five grandchildren, and the entire Emberton family in this difficult time,” McConnell added.