Jim Bunning, former senator and baseball Hall of Famer, dies at age 85

05/27/2017 12:58 PM

Former U.S. Senator and Major League Baseball Hall of Famer Jim Bunning has died at age 85.

The River City News reported Saturday that Bunning passed late Friday, and his son, U.S. District Judge David Bunning, tweeted that “Heaven got its No 1 starter today.”

“Our lives are better off because of your love & dedication to family,” he wrote.

Jim Bunning served as a state senator, becoming minority leader of the Republican caucus in his first term, before winning northern Kentucky’s 4th Congressional District seat in 1986. He mounted an unsuccessful gubernatorial campaign in 1983 against former Gov. Martha Layne Collins and went from the U.S. House of Representatives to the Senate in 1998, where he served for two terms.

Bunning, who suffered a stroke in October, pitched Major League Baseball’s seventh perfect game in 1964 as a member of the Philadelphia Phillies.

Bunning is survived by his wife, Mary, nine children, 35 grandchildren and great-grandchildren, with visitation planned Friday at Muehlenkamp Erschell Funeral Home in Fort Thomas followed by services at the Cathedral Basilica of the Assumption in Covington, according to The River City News.

Kentucky politicians began sharing their condolences to the Bunning family as news of his death broke Saturday.

“Senator Jim Bunning led a long and storied life,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said in a statement. “From his days in the major leagues to his years as my colleague in the Senate — and the many points in between, from the City Council to the House of Representatives — Jim rarely shied away from a new adventure.

“This Hall of Famer will long be remembered for many things, including a perfect game, a larger-than-life personality, a passion for Kentucky, and a loving family. Elaine and I offer our sincere condolences to Mary and the entire Bunning family.”

U.S. Sen. Rand Paul tweeted that the state “lost a true hero.”

“Senator Bunning was fearless on the mound and in the halls of Congress,” Paul wrote on Twitter. “He will be missed.”

Gov. Matt Bevin said the state “lost a true gem” who was “a champion of conservatism and the embodiment of Kentucky’s tenacious spirit.”

“Bunning’s unique sense of humor and outlook on life often drew attention, but he was never one to back down,” Bevin wrote on Twitter. “He understood that ‘difficult times require difficult decisions,’ a philosophy that guided him well as he served our state and country. His absence will be felt in the years to come, but we are thankful for what he left behind: an incredible legacy of hard work, determination, and selflessness.”

U.S. Rep. Andy Barr also noted Bunning’s accomplishments on the mound and as a lawmaker.

“After a remarkable career in baseball, Jim Bunning could have gone anywhere and done anything,” Barr said in a statement. “He chose to come home to Kentucky where he dedicated his life to his family and to public service. Throughout his entire career he remained a principled conservative and unrelenting fighter for the causes he believed in and for the people of the Commonwealth. Today, Carol and I are thinking of and praying for his amazing wife Mary, their wonderful children and many grandchildren.”

U.S. Rep. James Comer said he was “deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Sen. Jim Bunning.

“Sen. Bunning was a great public servant who will go down in history as one of the great conservative minds of our time,” Comer said in a statement. “Sen. Bunning was a role model who was always there for me in every election I ever ran. T.J. and I extend our thoughts and prayers to the entire Bunning family.”

State Senate President Robert Stivers noted that his wife Regina worked on Bunning’s Senate staff for three years “and we both knew him as an exemplary Kentuckian.”

“Senator Bunning had a tremendous baseball career in the MLB and was inducted into the Hall of Fame,” he said in a statement. “He also had an impressive political career, being elected as state senator, running as a gubernatorial candidate, and serving as US Senator. Any single one of those accomplishments would be enough to mark a noteworthy career, but Senator Bunning had them all.”

House Speaker Jeff Hoover called Bunning “a great Kentuckian who served the people of this state most admirably for several years.”

“He was a dear personal friend and mentor to me,” Hoover said in a statement. “I learned first hand in 2007 that Senator Bunning was loyal to his friends and when he made a commitment or gave you his word, you could depend on it. I will be forever grateful for his friendship. I extend my sympathies to his wonderful wife Mary and the entire Bunning family. Kentucky has lost one of its greatest citizens.”

Republican Party of Kentucky Chairman Mac Brown said Bunning “will be missed and our thoughts and prayers go out to his family.”

“Jim Bunning was a man who loved his country, his state and, most of all, his family,” he said in a statement. “Whether he was on the pitcher’s mound, in the halls of Congress or at home with his wife Mary, his children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, he truly embodied the spirit of Kentucky.”


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