Charles K. O’Connell, Secretary of State for the Commonwealth of Kentucky, 1944-48 and 1952-56, was born in Frankfort, Ky., October 11, 1901, the son of William B. and Bess (Kenny) O’Connell. His father was an attorney who was serving as deputy clerk of the Court of Appeals at the time of the son’s birth. The parents had one other child, a daughter who died at the age of ten. O’Connell himself never married.
In 1906, the family moved to Newport, and O’Connell attended parochial schools there and in Cincinnati. In 1923 the family moved to Louisville, where he completed his education at St. Xavier High School and the University of Louisville, where he received an AB degree in 1929. The previous year, his father had been elected Clerk of the Kentucky Court of Appeals, so upon graduation, the young man moved to Frankfort to become deputy clerk. O’Connell’s time as deputy clerk ended at the conclusion of his father’s term in 1932, and his father assumed the position of deputy clerk. William O’Connell was again elected Clerk of the Court of Appeals in 1935, but by the time he was sworn in on January 6, 1936, he was ill with pneumonia and died the next day. Within forty minutes of his father’s death, Charles was named Clerk by the court to serve until an election in November of that year. In November 1936, he was elected to complete his father’s term. This was the beginning of his continuous years as a state official that lasted until his death in 1957.
Because O’Connell had not been elected to a full four-year term, he was permitted to run for reelection as Clerk in 1939. In 1943, he was elected Secretary of State, the only Democrat to win statewide office that year. In 1947 he was elected Clerk of the Court of Appeals, in 1951 Secretary of State, and in 1955 Clerk of the Court of Appeals.
Throughout his career, O’Connell was known as “Mr. Vote Getter.” Part of his popularity could be attributed to his public-speaking ability. He was described as a “master of humorous monologue, in the Bob Hope manner, an accomplished pianist, and nimble-witted master of ceremonies, and an after dinner speaker of unusual competence.” He was also involved in many civic organizations as well as theater groups and was the founder of the Frankfort Community Players.
While still holding office as Clerk of the Court of Appeals, O’Connell died January 10, 1957, at King’s Daughters Hospital in Frankfort of a cerebral hemorrhage. He had been in failing health for about a year and had been discovered unconscious in his room at the Southern Hotel earlier in the day. He was buried in Mt. Sterling, Kentucky.
Louisville Courier-Journal, January 11, 1957.
Murray Ledger-Times, September 9, 1952.