Death of The Last Free Man in America

By: Don McNay
By: Don McNay

I'm mourning the loss, at age 64, of my friend, author and frequent Kentucky political candidate Gatewood Galbraith.

I'm mourning the loss, at age 64, of my friend, author and frequent Kentucky political candidate Gatewood Galbraith.


Anyone who wants to be a best-selling author needed to spend time around Gatewood.  


 He had knack for understanding his audience that few others had.


My first book fair event ever was the 2006  Kentucky Book Fair.  When I walked into the arena,  I found they had me sharing a table with Gatewood, who was promoting his excellent  autobiography,  The Last Free Man in America.


I was horrified that I was perched next to a perennial gubernatorial candidate who advocated the legalization of marijuana  and known to take a toke or two  on his own.  


Being with him turned out to be the  best thing that ever happened in my book career.   


The day  launched an unusual friendship.


I had poked fun at  Galbraith in the book I was selling,   The Unbridled World of Ernie Fletcher. I confessed my sin to Gatewood who laughed and said,  "Donnie,  it's not the first time someone has poked  fun at  me."


Being perched next to Gatewood  for eight hours was  like getting a   PHD in book marketing.


Gatewood took me under his wing.    He had been to hundreds of book events passed along his wisdom. 


Wisdom that I never forgot.


He talked with me about how to dress.   He said to always wear Rockport's shoes  with hard soles and heavy socks.   It made it easier to stand in place all day.    If you see me at a book event,  you will note that I follow Gatewood's advice to this day.      Rather than sitting behind the table,  Gatewood convinced me that I needed to stand on my feet  the entire time, be outgoing and friendly,  and look every  potential customer in the eye.


 He suggested wearing a big hat, like he did, to draw attention.   I don't like hats but decided that a conservative business suit was more up my alley and would draw attention in a crowded book fair. 


Whatever we were doing worked.  At the end of the day, we were two of the biggest selling authors at the book fair.  He sold more than me but I think he sold more than anyone.


The next year, 2007,  when my Son of a Son of a Gambler book came out,  Gatewood,  Kentucky State Treasurer (and current Huffington Post contributor)   Jonathan Miller and I teamed up for a three person,  statewide, Kentucky  book tour. 


We traveled from Prestonsburg to Paducah and signed books at numerous  political rallies.


We had fun and it was fascinating to be with Gatewood on a daily basis.   He also connected with people from every part of society.   Working people were his natural base but he could hang with the high and mighty.  Everyone loved him.


Everyone knew him too.  I owned a political consulting company in the early 1990's and we did polling for local and statewide candidates.   Gatewood was running for something and had 100% name recognition in Lexington, Kentucky.   George Bush, the president, had 99% and the sitting Governor, Wallace Wilkinson, was at 98%. 


The key to his personality was that he never took himself too seriously.  Issues were serious but Gatewood was not.


That's not to say he wasn't practical.     I was in the car behind him at a broken stop light in Somerset.   I sat for twenty minutes, waiting for him to make his turn.  Finally, I drove around him and he followed me into a parking lot.


I yelled over, "the last free man in America would have run that red light."  Gatewood responded, "The last free man in America did not want to give the police a chance to search the back of my car."


Galbreath was ignored or laughed off by better funded candidates and usually by the mainstream media. 


Being with him on a regular basis,  I realized how many great ideas he had.    Gatewood had a strong populist message that blown off by those who stereotyped him, "the pro pot candidate."


He had many views held by both Occupy Wall Street and the tea party,  long before either movement  came along.   His brand of populism might have caught on if he had been a slicker, better funded, campaigner.   He chose to remain true to himself and his core values.


Gatewood ran his last campaign in 2011,  as an independent, running for Kentucky's Governor.   He got about nine percent of the vote.  His views on issues like  outlawing Mountaintop  Coal Removal  differed from the Republican and Democratic standard bearers and kept the issue in the forefront of the media.  


He impacted the political agenda,  even when  that  wasn't his intent.


I was  recently putting together a list of people to invite to my wedding and Gatewood was on A list.   When my fiancé' asked about him,  I said,  "you can't have a party unless Gatewood's there."


I'm sure Gatewood has a party rocking in heaven right now.   I hope that his legacy of pushing ideas and issues deem "too controversial"   will live on.   


History will prove that he was a man ahead of his time.  And a great guy to spend time with.


It's hard to ask for a better life than that.

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