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Tom Emberton, former Kentucky gubernatorial candidate, dies in house fire after "heroically" saving his wife

Tom Emberton, once a Republican candidate for Kentucky governor and later chief judge of the state Court of Appeals, died Thursday in a house fire after getting his wife to safety, officials said.

Tom Emberton Western Kentucky University

The fire was discovered around 3:30 a.m., Metcalfe County Coroner Larry Wilson said. Emberton helped get his wife away from the home but then he went back inside and didn't make it out, Wilson said. Emberton was in his late 80s.

Kentucky Chief Justice John D. Minton Jr. announced Emberton's death during his State of the Judiciary, spokesperson Leigh Anne Hiatt said.

Edmonton Mayor Doug Smith said the fire was accidental.

"Tom heroically made certain his wife Julia made it to safety but lost his life during his effort to save their home," Smith said in a statement to WBKO-TV in Bowling Green.

Emberton, a lawyer from Metcalfe County, ran for governor in 1971, losing in the general election to then Lt. Governor Wendell Ford. 

He was appointed to the Court of Appeals in 1987. He was reelected twice and also served as chief judge of the appellate court until he retired in 2004, U.S. Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell said.

"Tom gave me one of my earliest experiences in the rough and tumble reality of political campaigning, hiring me to work on his 1971 gubernatorial campaign," McConnell said in a statement. "He taught me valuable lessons on public service and running as a statewide Republican in Kentucky. "

Emberton is also survived by his children, Laura Emberton Owens and Tom Emberton Jr.

According to his alma mater, Western Kentucky University, Emberton enrolled at the school after a four-year tour of duty with the United States Air Force. After graduating from WKU, Emberton was accepted to the University of Louisville School of Law in 1959.

In 2007, the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet named a bridge in Metcalfe County in his honor, the university said.

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