Brent Spence

Brent Spence


Condensed from a Pieces of the Past article, Volume 1, page 67-70 by Jim Reis and reprinted here with his permission.

Brent Spence, a Representative from Kentucky, who had the I-75 Bridge named after him in 1963,  was born in Newport on December 24, 1874 to Colonel Philip Brent Spence and Virginia Berry.  He attended public and private schools and graduated from the law department of the Ohio Law School (now the College of Law at the University of Cincinnati)  in 1895. He was admitted to the bar the same year and commenced practice in Newport in his uncle's firm.  His uncle was Albert Seaton Berry. 

Spence made his first run for political office in 1903, defeating Republican William Dyer.  He sought re-election in 1907, but he lost to Republican George Wilhelmi. He then stepped out of the political spotlight and concentrated on his law practice.  He returned to public service in 1915 when he ran for Newport City Solicitor.  He got the job and held it through 1923.  During that period, Newport officials were often locked in legal battles with streetcar, power, telephone and railroad companies over customer rates, forcing Spencer into a role as a crusader against big business.

In May 1920 Spence helped negotiate an end to a steel strike in Newport and won praise from the Amalgamated Tim and Steelworkers union. The same year he married Ida Billerman of Cincinnati.  He was replaced as city solicitor in Newport, but was named Ft. Thomas City Solicitor in January 1924, a position he held until November 1927.  In 1928 he was the Democrat candidate for Congress opposing Republican J Lincoln Newhall.  He lost, but ran again in 1930 and was elected to the first of 16 straight terms.

Spence quickly earned a reputation as a leader and a liberal.  He supported Philippine independence, the payment of bonuses to WWI veterans and more federal involvement in economic relief programs.  He became an early ally of Franklin Roosevelt and he used that influence to convince federal officials to build a new airport in Boone County.  In 1943 he became chairman of the House Committee on Banking and Currency.  He championed reconstruction loans to Great Britain after WWII and  federal subsidies for veteran housing.; public housing for low income families; obtained federal housing grants for Newport; procured funds for floodwalls in Covington, Newport and Maysville.

Ida Spence died May 31, 1950 after a lengthy illness.  The Spences did not have any children.

Spence announced on March 29, 1962 that he would not seek a 17th term.  After he retired he moved to Cincinnati. living first at the Sinton Hotel and later at the Vernon Manor.

On November 20, 1963, word came that the new I-75 bridge would be named in his honor.  When reporters questioned him about the announcement, he said, "You be sure and check your information.  Someone must have told you wrong."  The ceremonies for opening the I-75 bridge were set for November 26, 1963, but the mood was broken when President Kennedy was assassinated.  Spence wanted to name the bridge after President Kennedy. But officials stayed with the original plan.

Spence moved back to Ft. Thomas and was living in an apartment at 2351 Memorial Parkway when he became ill.  He died at St. Luke Hospital September 18, 1967 and was buried in Evergreen Cemetery.

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