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Hilery "Jim Bat" Johnson, public servant for 43 years, laid to rest

A longtime public office holder and political force in Butler County for decades was laid to rest Tuesday afternoon - July 3 - at Hill Haven Cemetery in Morgantown.

Hilery "Jim Bat" Johnson, Jr., 83, died Friday, June 29, at his Russellville Road home.  Probably best known for his 22 years as Butler County Jailer, Johnson also served both city and county governments over the years, including nine years with the Morgantown Police Department, twelve years as county surveyor, as well as serving as a member of the Morgantown Volunteer Fire Department for much of his adult life.  (Click here for complete obituary

As a public office holder, Johnson was active in the Butler County Republican Party, where his political savvy and organizational skills loomed large over many local political races down through the years.  As a staple in the Butler County Courthouse, Johnson made an impact of political friends and foes alike.  (Click here for video of funeral procession:

"Jim Bat was one of my best political friends during my years as circuit clerk," said Bonnie Howard, who served three terms as Butler County Circuit Clerk.  "He (Jim Bat) was in the courthouse my whole time in office and while we may not have agreed on everything, he was a great friend to have.  I could always count on him if I had a problem; I could always go to him."  

Former Morgantown Mayor Eva J. Hawes echoed many of Howard's comments.  "I started very young in politics and learned a lot of lessons from Jim Bat and the "Big Four" in Butler County politics.  

The "Big Four" was a phrase coined by the late Green River Republican owner/editor Larry S. Craig in reference to the political prowess of Johnson, Roscoe Howard, Edgar Mathis "Kitch" Kitchens, and John C. "Jr." Henderson - all now deceased.

"Jim Bat was a good political organizer, he knew a lot of people and peopled liked him," said Hawes, who spent over 19 years working in the county clerk's office, four years on the Morgantown City Council, and four years as mayor.  "We worked on a lot of campaigns together."  

One person that started as a political foe ended up becoming a friend and was a pallbearer at Johnson's funeral - Butler County Jailer Terry Fugate.  

"Nothing I could say would be enough for Jim Bat and the kind of person he was - I've always had a lot of respect for him," said Fugate, who was elected jailer after Johnson's retirement in a close race over Ricky Romans, who is Johnson's grandson.  "Jim Bat and Ricky always helped me over the years," said Fugate.  "We had a good transition and they made my job easier." 

"Jim Bat, along with some others, are ones that we always remember when it comes to politics," said Joe D. Forgy, who is the current GOP Chairman for Butler County.  "Jim Bat grew up in politics and was a very skilled and hard working politician — a good people person who knew how to get out the vote.  He was well-liked by the people of Butler County.  

Forgy, a former member of the Morgantown City Council and current chairman of the city's planning and zoning commission, said he considers Jim Bat's years of public service to Morgantown and Butler County as a "job well done."  

"Jim Bat was a good friend and a good Republican and he will definitely be missed," said former State Representative Woody Allen, who represented Butler County in the Kentucky General Assembly for nearly three decades where he served as GOP Whip for 14 years and Floor Leader for two years.  "He was a Republican's Republican as various GOP leaders and candidates who visited Butler County would usually find the time to see Jim Bat," said Allen.

"I knew Jim Bat from the time I started in politics and he was a loyal supporter, someone you could talk with and who would offer advice.  You could count on Jim Bat," said Allen.  "We worked closely together when Butler County got its current jail as I was a member of the County and Special Districts Committee in Frankfort.  Jim Bat worked hard for our jail."

"Jim Bat was one of kind when it comes to public service and politics in Butler County," said Butler County Judge-Executive David Fields.  "He was a good friend who served his community well over the years in many different ways.  

Judge-Executive Fields was one of the many public officials, as well as those who work in the courthouse, that stood out in front of the Butler County Courthouse on Tuesday afternoon as the hearse carrying Johnson's body passed slowly en route to the cemetery.

"Jim Bat meant a lot to many people in courthouse and across the county and we wanted to show our respect," said Fields.  "Whether in politics or public service, Jim Bat made his mark on Butler County and he will be missed." 

Another county official who knew Jim Bat well was former Butler County Judge-Executive David Martin, a Democrat who served over 19 years in the office.  Although they were from different political parties, Martin said politics never interfered with their relationship. 

"We were just like family, we grew up together," said Martin.  "We spent a lot of goods times together and even talked a little politics.  I enjoyed our times together."

Martin, who is a board member and vice chair of the Kentucky Registry of Election Finance, also praised Johnson's handing of the Butler County Jail.  

"Jim Bat was always very conscientious about the jail.  He looked for ways to make it run better and he was particularly concerned about inmates and their families and ways to improve visitation," said Martin.  "Jim Bat was an extraordinary person  and a good friend." 

Longtime businessman Bruce White said he has known Jim Bat most all of his life and described him as a "people person."  White has owned/operated White Real Estate and Auction since 1974 and has also been involved in many local and state political campaigns.

"Jim Bat was always a people person who would pat you on the back and talk — it just came naturally to him.  It's what made him a good politician but he didn't do it for that purpose — that was just the kind of person he was."        

Johnson was honored with last rites at the graveside conducted by members of the Morgantown Police Department.  Just retired Chief of Police Billy Phelps, who is Johnson's grand son-in-law, radioed Johnson's old police call number - 116 - to dispatch multiple times without response, signifying that Johnson was now gone.


Story by John Embry; photos by Roger Southerland and Katie Kirby.





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