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Goodwin Knight

After dabbling into my family’s genealogy, I learned that one of my Grandpa Marshall Milner’s first cousins was the late Governor of California, Goodwin Knight.

Goodwin is the grandson of John Brewitt Milner, the first Milner in my family to emigrate to the American continent.

My dad told me a story about how one time his parents, Marshall and Sarah travelled to California to visit their daughter Joyce who was on a church mission. It was at this time that Goodwin was the governor of California. They found themselves not far from the governor’s mansion and Marshall having never met Goodwin, wanted to knock on his cousin’s door. However, my grandma insisted that the governor was too busy and that it would be a bother to disturb him. They never did meet. It’s really too bad.

Here is Goodwin at the opening of Disneyland in 1955.

Here he is again speaking after Walt just gave his opening speech. He has a look that reminds me of my Grandpa Marshall:

When it comes to Goodwin Knight, however, possibly more interesting to most is the fact that he was closely involved in the Warren Commission, officially titled The President’s Commission on the Assassination of President Kennedy. The Commission took its unofficial name—the Warren Commission—from its chairman, Chief Justice Earl Warren, whom Goodwin served under as the 35th Lieutenant Governor of California in the years before he became the Governor himself.

Goodwin died in 1970. See his New York Times obituary after the jump.

INGLEWOOD, Calif., May 22 (AP)—Former Gov. Goodwin J. Knight died of pneumonia to day at the age of 73.

In Washington, President Nixon issued a statement expressing “a deep sense of sadness.”

“His distinguished contributions to good government in the State of California and his devoted service to its people will long serve as a fitting memorial to him,” the President said.

A Forceful Campaigner

An aggressive, ebullient man, Goodwin Jess Knight gained respect as one of the most forceful campaigners the Republican party has had in California.

Mr. Knight — known as “Goodie”—followed in the tradition of liberal Republicanism popularized by Earl Warren during his tenure as Governor.

Mr. Knight, a powerful force within the party from 1946 to 1958, served as Governor from 1953 to 1959. His path frequently crossed and conflicted with those of Richard M. Nixon and William F. Knowland, former Republican Senator.

In a historic switch in 1958 while he was still Governor, Mr. Knight ran for the United States Senate and Mr. Knowland ran for the governorship. Both went down to crashing defeat. Mr. Knight lost to Senator Clair Engle by 750,000 votes, and Mr. Knowland by one million votes to Edmund G. Brown in the Democratic deluge.

Mr. Knight bitterly contended he was “sandbagged” by a party coalition headed by Knowland and Nixon. That was the major reason he was so eager to jump into the 1962 Republican primary against Mr. Nixon.

He announced his candidacy for the governorship two weeks ahead of Mr. Nixon and later charged he had been offered “any job Goodie wants” by Nixon aide to stay out of the June, 1962, primary.

Mr. Nixon won the primary after Mr. Knight became ill. The future President then lost the election to Governor Brown.

Elected With Warren in 1946

Mr. Knight’s prominence on the statewide scene began with his 1946 election as Lieutenant Governor, Gov. Earl Warren’s running mate. They were re-elected in 1950. Mr. Knight had won the Republican and the Democratic nominations in the primary under the cross?filing system then in vogue in California.

When Mr. Warren was appointed Chief Justice of the United States in 1953, Mr. Knight moved into the Governor’s chair. He was elected to a full four year term in 1954.

While Governor, he espoused middle-of-the-road programs that found general acceptance. Like Governor Warren before him, he was one of the few western Republicans able to gain considerable support from at least a segment of organized labor.

Mr. Knight’s robust, personal popularity was not enough to pierce the Democratic avalanche in November, 1958, when he sought the Senate seat.

Worked as Miner

From 1959 until an attack of infectious hepatitis in November, 1961, Mr. Knight was popular news commentator on a Los Angeles television station.

Mr. Knight was born Dec. 9, 1896, in Provo, Utah. His father was a lawyer and mining engineer whose family had come west from New York about 1850.

The Knights moved from Utah to Los Angeles while Goodwin was a boy. Among his high?school classmates were future Gen. James Doolittle and Lawrence Tibbett, the late opera singer.

Mr. Knight worked his way through Stanford University as a hard?rock miner. His slightly flattened nose attested to a familiarity with hard work—and perhaps a hard fist or two.

He served in the Navy in World War I. After graduation from Stanford, he studied for one year at Cornell University. He was admitted to the California bar in 1921.

He practiced law in Los Angeles, but earned more money by mining gold in Bakersfield. In 1935 he was appointed to the Superior Court, where he built a reputation for reconciling litigants in Hollywood divorce cases. He became known as “the actors’ judge.”

As Lieutenant Governor, the stocky Mr. Knight took advantage of the post’s secondary responsibilities to become the state’s leading speech?maker and hand?shaker. He sacrificed intellectuality to gregariousness. Indefatigable and eloquent, he hit a peak of 250 speeches month.

His first wife, the former Arvilla Cooley, died in 1952. Two years later he married the former Virginia Carlson.

Mr. Knight also leaves two daughters by his first marriage — Mrs. Marilyn Eaton and Mrs. Carolyn Weedman, both of Los Angeles.

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