Legendary businessman and UK benefactor Bill Gatton has died

WJHL reports a close family contact said Gatton died Monday at Bristol Regional Medical Center

UPDATE (4/19/22) – University of Kentucky President Eli Capilouto is sharing condolences for the late Bill Gatton.

Capilouto issued the following statement Tuesday morning:

“Bill Gatton was a Kentucky original. Born and raised in small coalfield town, Mr. Gatton became an iconic businessman, who early on had fostered in him a lifelong belief in hard work, generosity and service. As part of that commitment, Mr. Gatton always saw his alma mater as a shining beacon – the place that could do the most to serve and make better his native state. And he pushed us – every day and in so many ways — to live up to that responsibility and to make real that aspiration. He knew from his own life how important an education was and is to the future. And he endeavored to make such an education possible for thousands and thousands of students, most of whom will never know him or how much he was committed to their success. In addition to his personal contributions, Mr. Gatton had an indelible impact on so many other donors, who inspired by his example, stepped forward to make gifts that have continued our progress and transformation. Such influence underscores the idea that more than numbers and dollars was an unshakable commitment to the state that he loved, the institution that bears its name and that he believed was most important to its future.”


LEXINGTON, Ky. (WTVQ/WJHL) — Legendary businessman and philanthropist Bill Gatton has died at the age of 89.  According to WJHL, a close family contact said Gatton died Monday at Bristol Regional Medical Center in Tennessee.

Gatton owned automobile dealerships in Tennessee, Alabama, and Texas and was engaged in various real estate projects in Kentucky, Tennessee, and Texas.

He earned his bachelor’s degree in business from the University of Kentucky and a master’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania.

He was the former Chairman of the Board of Directors of Area Bancshares. During his tenure, it was the largest bank holding company headquartered in Kentucky. He was a former director on the boards of all seventeen subsidiary banks located throughout the Commonwealth.

Gatton received numerous awards, and is a member of the Gatton College Alumni Hall of Fame and the University of Kentucky Hall of Distinguished Alumni.

He was associated with numerous boards and organizations, including the Bristol Chamber of Commerce, the Board of Directors of the Bristol Tennessee Industrial Development Board, the Board of Directors of the Bristol Regional Medical Center, the National Automobile Dealers Association, and the Tennessee Automobile Association.

He was the founder of the Bill Gatton Foundation, which contributed substantial sums to support various charitable and educational organizations.

Gatton was born and raised on a farm near Bremen, Kentucky in Muhlenberg County. He attended Sacramento High School and graduated in 1950, the valedictorian of his graduating class. He enrolled at the University of Kentucky after high school, majoring in business administration, and graduated from the College of Commerce in 1954.

In 1995, he made a gift to the College of Business and Economics which was the largest gift to the University of Kentucky in its history. Later, in his honor, the Board of Trustees named the college “The Carol Martin Gatton College of Business and Economics.”  The student center at UK also bears his name.

According to WJHL, funeral arrangements are incomplete.

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