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W. Wilkinson, 60; Former Ky. Governor

July 06, 2002|From Associated Press

Former Kentucky Gov. Wallace Wilkinson, a self-made millionaire who helped create the state's lottery and overhauled its public schools, died Friday. He was 60.

Wilkinson, a Democrat who was governor from 1987 to 1991, had been battling a recurrence of lymphatic cancer first diagnosed during his term of office. He died at St. Joseph Hospital in Lexington a day after suffering a stroke, said his attorney, Robert Brown.

Wilkinson, whose business empire collapsed in bankruptcy last year, started a bookstore as a teenager that grew into a national company. At its peak, Wallace's Bookstores operated 91 shops on 60 college and seminary campuses.

His administration helped create the Kentucky Lottery, which he had pushed as an alternative to higher taxes; and the 1990 Kentucky Education Reform Act, which set high performance standards, held schools accountable for their results and greatly increased school funding.

But he was dogged throughout his administration by questions about whether he used his office to advance his business interests.

After he became governor, Wilkinson allegedly got a state-regulated company, Kentucky Central Life Insurance, to pay an inflated price for a money-losing hotel he owned in Frankfort.

Kentucky Central later went bankrupt, and the state insurance commissioner sued Wilkinson. The former governor paid $11 million to settle the case in 1999.

Last year a group of creditors sued to have his companies seized.

The lawsuit touched off a highly public bankruptcy in which Wilkinson admitted that his debts exceeded assets by more than $300 million. His main companies were liquidated, and many of his holdings were auctioned.

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