Brent Yonts, a former Kentucky state representative from Muhlenberg County, died Friday morning of COVID-19, a Greenville funeral home confirmed. He was 72.
Yonts, a Democrat who had battled COVID-19 on a ventilator for several days, had been fully vaccinated, said two of his legislative colleagues — Sen. Whitney Westerfield, R-Hopkinsville, and retired Rep. Jim Wayne, D-Louisville.
Breakthrough infections, in which vaccinated people test positive for the virus and sometimes develop symptoms, are becoming more common in the state, according to public health statistics.
Reuters reported Friday that Israeli doctors have found breakthrough cases mostly in older, sicker patients. The Biden Administration has recommended a third vaccine shot among immunocompromised individuals immediately, and for the rest of the nation later this fall.
“The commonwealth mourns the loss of Brent Yonts, a leader who worked to better the lives of Kentuckians across the commonwealth,” Gov. Andy Beshear said in a statement. “Britainy and I extend our deepest sympathies to Jan and the entire Yonts family as we hold them close in prayer during this difficult time. “
House Speaker David Osborne, R-Prospect, on behalf of House members, said they hope Yonts’ family is “able to find comfort in his many accomplishments and the knowledge that Kentucky is a better place because of his service.
“Brent Yonts was a respected colleague who made many friends while serving in the Kentucky House of Representatives. He was well-known for his colorful attire and clever wit, but the true hallmark of his character was his devotion to his family.”
The three House Democratic leaders — Floor Leader Joni Jenkins of Louisville, Caucus Chair Derrick Graham of Frankfort and Whip Angie Hatton of Whitesburg — said in a statement that “Brent served his House district and all of Kentucky with distinction for two decades, establishing a long record of accomplishments that will benefit the commonwealth for many years to come.”
“On a more personal level, those of us who knew him will never forget his warmth and kindness, his commitment to making Kentucky an even better place to live, and of course his colorful jackets and a legislative office that was as much a museum as it was a place to work,” they said.
Former Democratic Gov. Paul Patton said he was saddened to hear about Yonts’ death.
“Brent severed in the Kentucky General Assembly for almost all of the eight years I served as governor of Kentucky,” said Patton. “I found him to be honest, frank and always a gentleman, whether he agreed or had an opposite view from me. He was the kind of person we need in the legislature. His district was well served by his representation.”
Westerfield called Yonts “a unique character who was a flashy guy for a small town.” Yonts often wore colorful sports coats.
Speaker of the House Greg Stumbo, left, talked with Rep. Brent Yonts (D), Muhlenburg, as legislators return to session at the State Capital in Frankfort, Ky., on Tuesday, February 3, 2009. Photo by David Stephenson | Staff
Yonts also was known for maintaining a museum of presidential memorabilia in his Greenville law office.
“He was a very, very polite man, super smart and would treat everyone with respect,” said Westerfield.
Wayne said Yonts’ “always was considerate and wanted to do the right thing, especially for working people.”
Yonts served as the state representative for Kentucky’s 15th District from 1997 to 2016. The district covers Muhlenberg County and a large part of Hopkins County. He was defeated for re-election in 2016 by Republican Melinda Gibbons Prunty.
In the legislature, Yonts was known for his work as chairman of the House State Government Committee and on criminal issues.
Yonts earned a bachelor’s degree from Murray State University and a law degree from the University of Kentucky. He was a first lieutenant in the U.S. Army in the early 1970s.
Yonts and his wife, Jan, have three children.
Gary’s Funeral Home in Greenville is handling arrangements, which were expected to be finalized late Friday.