Right after Bill Nighbert was sworn in as president of the Kentucky League of Cities (KLC) in 2002, he called his then five-year-old son Benton to the stage, and hoisted him above the podium showing the audience of KLC staff and city officials what drove him to public service.
“This is why I do what I do … here is the reason I serve,” Nighbert told the audience recalled Kentucky League of Cities CEO/Executive Director J.D. Chaney in a Facebook post.
Chaney noted that this moment said a lot about Nighbert.
“In my opinion, that moment captured the Bill Nighbert we knew at KLC – dedicated to his family forever and always driven to pave a better way for the future generations that follow him,” Chaney wrote on Facebook.
Former Williamsburg Mayor and Kentucky Transportation Cabinet Secretary Charles William “Bill” Nighbert passed away peacefully surrounded by his family on Thursday, Jan. 21, following a battle with cancer.
“Bill Nighbert put his kind heart and thoughtful nature into decades of public service. Even as mayor of Williamsburg, no job was too small for Bill to pitch in and help his neighbors. He was instrumental in helping connect communities across our commonwealth and paved the way for others to do the same,” U.S. Senator Mitch McConnell said. “Bill’s greatest achievement was the love he shared with Susan and their family. Elaine and I send our sincere condolences to them and all who counted Bill as a friend.”
Nighbert was a member of the First Baptist Church of Williamsburg.
He was the president of the Optimist Club, coached little league football, baseball, and basketball, chaired the booster club and volunteered for countless other community activities.
“Bill was one of a kind. He was a good friend to everybody. He was great to kids. Bill was always very active with the school kids. If a kid needed help, Bill was there to help them. He was just a good man,” said Whitley Circuit Clerk Gary Barton, who noted that he and Nighbert were the best of friends for over 40 years in addition to being business partners and working in elections side by side.
“He was one of my best friends. He will be missed by everybody,” Barton said.
Nighbert had various jobs in city and county government before being elected Mayor of Williamsburg in November 1993.
Nighbert served 10 years as Williamsburg mayor during which time he served as president of the Kentucky League of Cities. He resigned as mayor in February 2004 to take the position of Deputy Commissioner for the Governor’s Office for Local Development (GOLD).
In March 2005, then Gov. Ernie Fletcher named him secretary of the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet.
“Bill did a great job as mayor for the City of Williamsburg. He got the waterpark built and many other things that were done here in Williamsburg. He went on of course to Frankfort and did a great job for the state of Kentucky, especially for Whitley County with the road projects that he got done down here. All of that has been an asset for Williamsburg and all of Whitley County,” Barton said.
Barton added that Nighbert was the type of person that when he walked into a room, you knew he was there.
“He could take over a room with his personality and his sense of humor. I have travelled with him. I was business partners with him. He was just a good man. Anybody, who knew him, liked Bill. He will be sorely missed by everybody,” Barton said.
Current Williamsburg Mayor Roddy Harrison noted that Nighbert was a generous guy, who was the typical give you the shirt off his back kind of person.
“He loved Williamsburg. He loved the state of Kentucky. He worked hard to get Williamsburg where it was before I got here,” Harrison said.
Harrison added Nighbert did many things that most people didn’t even realize, such as various water and sewer projects.
“He was an awesome mayor and he did a phenomenal job. This is just sad news,” Harrison said.
After Nighbert’s resignation as mayor, Paul Estes served as interim mayor until a special election to fill the position, which Harrison won.
“You don’t follow someone like that,” Harrison said of Nighbert. “You just hope you don’t put the torch out. He is another one of those from Williamsburg that we lost, who will never be replaced,” Harrison said.
Harrison noted that the Exit 11 interchange over I-75 was a major project that Nighbert was instrumental in accomplishing and getting funding for while he was transportation cabinet secretary.
“I know everybody had problems with it at first, but now that everybody is used to it, it has made a huge difference over there on that exit,” Harrison said.
“He was one of the sharpest guys that I have ever known. He was so quick and he knew so much,” Harrison said adding that Nighbert was great with numbers.
“The one thing that stands out, his mind was always going. He was always one of the sharpest men in the room, but he didn’t let you know that. Most people, who are the sharpest person in the room, they will let you know that they are the smartest in the room. We can all think of somebody we know like that. He was the smartest person in the room, but he didn’t let on like he knew he was.”
About a week prior to Nighbert’s death, Kentucky Senator Chris McDaniel, who is Nighbert’s son-in-law, spoke about Nighbert during a Jan. 13 address on the senate floor.
“It didn’t matter if it was something large and high profile that involved congressmen and senators and, in some cases presidents, you could count on Bill Nighbert to give 100 percent. It didn’t matter if it was a citizen living on a bus in the middle of a field, who needed their commodities delivered. You could count on Bill Nighbert to be there and give 100 percent. It didn’t matter what it was, he served and cared for his community,” McDaniel said.
“He served the commonwealth in many roles to include secretary of transportation. He is known to this day for his effective and efficient leadership of that cabinet … People, who know Bill, know him as a good, honest, loyal caring for others kind of person. He is someone, who is exceptionally firm, but as exceptionally firm as he is, he is even kinder. He is someone, who will do anything to help anyone at any given time.”
Kentucky Senator Robin Webb noted after McDaniel spoke that Nighbert was also loved by those on the other side of the political aisle.
“We have always had a very good relationship. I loved working with him. He not only loves his family, he loves this commonwealth,” Webb added.
A celebration of life service will be held for Nighbert at Immanuel Baptist Church’s Tates Creek Campus in Lexington on Thursday, Jan. 28, at 5:30 p.m.
In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to Immanuel Baptist Church where Nighbert was a faithful member and volunteer.