Shelby County women behind 2 of Kentucky's most powerful men

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Two women from Shelby County do some of the speaking for the state’s most powerful voices – Gov Steve Beshear and Attorney General Jack Conway. Meet Kerri Richardson and Shelley Johnson and how they arrived at where they are.

By Lisa King

Kerri Richardson and Shelley Catharine Johnson have a lot in common.


Both are media spokespersons for high profile government offices, the governor and the attorney general, respectively.

Both are dedicated, driven professionals  in their fields.

Both are also Shelby County residents.

Richardson, communications director for Gov. Steve Beshear, and Johnson, deputy communications director for Attorney General Jack Conway, say they have always gotten along well when their paths have crossed professionally from time to time.

“I knew her [Richardson] when she was a reporter for WHAS-11 TV, and I know her from her work with the governor's office,” said Johnson, who lives near Simpsonville. “She is incredibly good at what she does, and is a terrific person!”

Said Richardson, who lives in Shelbyville:

“We have never worked in same office, but we sometimes collaborate on issues that affect the governor and attorney general. She [Johnson] is a delight!”

Maybe they get along so well because their lineage is so parallel.

Both graduated from high school in 1996, Johnson from the Sacred Heart Academy in Louisville and Richardson from Shelby County High School.

They were communications majors in college – Johnson at DePauw University and Richardson at Western Kentucky – and worked for several years as radio and television journalists – even both at WHAS – before moving on to public relations.


Johnson: It’s rewarding

Johnson describes her early days as a reporter at WHAS in Louisville as a very exciting time in her life.

“I really loved being a journalist, even the long days and crazy hours,” she said. “I loved the people I worked with, the stories I worked on, the documentaries. It was something I wouldn’t trade for anything.”

But then she started to realize that exciting career would interfere with something else she really wanted – a family.

“Knowing I wanted a family, I wanted a little bit more stability in my work hours and wanted to be home more with my family,” she said.

So Johnson and her husband, Nathan P. Johnson, an associate dean at the University of Louisville who is a former newspaper reporter and editor, moved to Shelby County in 1999.

“We wanted some acreage, and we just loved the Shelby countryside,” she said.

Their son, Patrick, came along in 2003, shortly after Johnson had begun working for the Independent Pilots Association.

But she soon discovered that  her love affair with the media was far from over.

“I started working for Jack [Conway] in 2008, and every day at work is crazy, busy and wonderful,” she said.

She spends her time working on media inquiries, sending out press releases and assisting Conway.

“I just love it here; it’s a tremendous challenge and very rewarding,” she said. “I love what I do.”

It’s always a joy to write a press release announcing the arrest of someone arrested for child pornography, she said.

“I always say to myself, ‘Well, there’s another one off the Internet!’”

But Johnson said Conway’s campaign to stamp out prescription drug abuse is the most rewarding project she has yet encountered.

“That’s been a priority issue for Attorney General Conway, and I’ve had the opportunity to help plan prescription drug abuse prevention programs for middle and high schools across the state and we hope to start one right here in Shelby County soon,” she said. “This is the most rewarding thing I’ve had the opportunity to be involved in.

“Just to know that we are making a dent in what is probably one of the biggest problems facing our kids today, well, It’s just incredibly rewarding to me.”


Richardson: ‘Drinking from a fire hose’

Richardson spent nine years working in television news after graduating from WKU in 2000, five of those years at WHAS-Channel 11.

Her career took a different twist when she started working for Louisville Mayor Jerry Abramson in 2007.

“I got a call asking if I was interested, and I said, ‘Hmmm, better hours, better pay – OK!,’” she said.

She spent two and a half years as Abramson’s communications coordinator; a position that she was said was immensely valuable to her.

“It was a great place to sort of get my legs under me to learn about government work and how to best communicate with the public,” she said.

Richardson chuckled as she recalled her duties there.

“I worked a lot in public safety with police and fire and public works; people there remember me as the snow lady,” she said. “I was the one who was always on TV saying, ‘Don’t panic, all the salt trucks are out.’”

Then she went to work for Beshear in 2009 and was on the other end of the spectrum from where she had first begun her career.

“For the first year and a half that I was in Frankfort, I dealt strictly with the media,” she said.

Then, six months ago, she took a big jump to communications director for Beshear.

“Now I’m dealing with reporters, working with our cabinet, helping to maintain government relations with folks throughout the state. It’s like drinking from a fire hose,” she said with a laugh.

What’s a typical day like for Richardson these days?

“My morning begins with the drive into Frankfort; I listen to the radio on the way in, to be sure I know what’s happening,” she said. “Then, at my office, I look at all the major newspaper stories, and I get a list of all the mentions of Governor Beshear’s name in newsprint, radio and television.

“I take a look at those and let our staff know what the hot topics are for the day and what kinds of questions I expect to get from reporters. The day can go in any direction from there.”

Richardson said she doesn’t travel much with Beshear, but when she does, it’s usually to the scene of a natural disaster, and that reminds her of the days in Abramson’s office, when she was nicknamed “the master of disaster.”

“We had the ice storm, windstorms, Hurricane Ike, flooding; I used to joke that the only thing we had had not was an earthquake, but then we had one in western Kentucky in the spring,” she said.

When asked what she thought was the key to her success, Richardson reflected that simply having grown up in Shelby County gave her a big advantage.

“I really have to say that I had the most awesome teachers, all the way through school,” she said. “They gave me a love for books, of reading, and so much more.

“I recently saw my fifth-grade teacher, Cricket McClure, at Kroger, and we had a great talk. I told  her I have always carried with me the love of reading that she gave me.”


Family ties

Both women say they cherish their families and the support they provide to them in their hectic careers and busy lives.

Johnson’s mother, Nancy Bush, who lives in Oldham County, has always been her hero and inspiration, she said.

“She has overcome so many obstacles in her life and is great role model,” she said.

Bush is an avid runner, cyclist, a black belt in Karate and holds down a full-time job.

“She has taught me the value of hard work and the importance of believing in yourself,” Johnson said.

Richardson said her parents, Donald and Glenda Richardson of Peytona, have been a “wonderful inspiration,” to her, and she enjoys spending time with them.

“Sometimes I drop  in and have supper with them, and my sister, Courtney just moved back in with them, so I can see all of them, except for my younger brother, who doesn’t live here,” she said.

Richardson said one thing her parents always stressed has really helped her in her career.

“I am convinced that every job I ever received was due in part to the fact that I wrote thank-you notes,” she said. “I would always write a note, thanking them for the interview. People remember that.”