Kenneth J. Rothman, first Jewish Lt. Governor of Missouri, dies at 83

Kenneth J. Rothman was a trailblazer for Jews in Missouri politics, becoming the state’s first Lt. Governor.

BY ROBERT A. COHN, Editor-in-Chief Emeritus

Kenneth J. Rothman, who had the distinction of being the first person of the Jewish faith to serve as speaker of the Missouri House of Representatives and later as the first Jewish lieutenant governor of the state, died Friday, April 26.  He was 83 and a longtime resident of St. Louis, who also had a residence in Crystal River, Fla.

Mr. Rothman, a Democrat, served as lieutenant governor of Missouri from 1981-1985, serving under Republican Governor Christopher (Kit) Bond. In those days the lieutenant governor and gubernatorial candidates were elected separately.  Although he was a lifelong Democrat, party differences never kept Ken Rothman from working with a governor of a different party, and his long career earned praise from members of both major parties.

When Mr. Rothman took office as lieutenant governor, he said, “Only in this great free country could a person of my background be elected to such positions.”  Throughout his career in state politics, Mr. Rothman was very proud to be the first Jewish person to become House Speaker and later the first Jew to hold statewide office.

Mr. Rothman blazed the trail for the late Harriett Woods, who was also Jewish and succeeded Mr. Rothman as lieutenant governor in 1985.  In 2012, Jason Kander was elected to the position of secretary of state of Missouri, becoming only the third Jewish person elected to statewide office in Missouri since its admission to the Union in 1821.

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Prior to being elected Missouri’s first Jewish lieutenant governor in 1980, Mr. Rothman served a total of 16 years in the Missouri House of Representatives.  When he was first elected to the House in 1962, he was only 26, and one of the youngest members of the Missouri General Assembly.  Prior to being elected House speaker, Mr. Rothman was the first Jewish lawmaker to serve as House Majority Leader.

Mr. Rothman, a suburban Jewish legislator, endeared himself to both fellow Democrats and Republicans during his long tenure.  He was always cognizant of this role as a Jewish legislator and never hid or downplayed the fact that he was Jewish.

A favorite anecdote which he often shared with the Jewish Light is when he attended a barbecue for legislators and was offered a pork steak.  He courteously declined, asking for a replacement meal, saying “people of my faith do not eat pork.”

While in the legislature, Mr. Rothman compiled an impressive record, leading the legislative process and influencing the passage of bills on such issues as the statewide criminal code of law, revision of the state drug code, prevention  of child abuse, strong licensing standards for nursing homes and a major reorganization of the

state’s highway and transportation system and structure.

Mr. Rothman was the Democratic nominee for governor in 1984, but was defeated by Republican John Ashcroft.

Mr. Rothman loved to schmooze about politics, often holding forth at length at his barber shop, Earl’s for Hair, sharing war stories from his long career, but never with bitterness and always with an engaging sense of humor.

Kennneth Joel Rothman was born in St. Louis on Oct. 11, 1935, the son of Herman and Anna Ollanik Rothman.  He attended public schools and graduated from Washington University with a bachelor of arts in history and political science  and his law degree at the Washington University School of Law.   He served in the Missouri National Guard and was called to active duty in Europe during the Berlin Crisis.

From 2001 until his retirement in 2012, he served as counsel to the law firm of Capes, Sokol, Goodman and Sarachan PC. In 2011, Mr. Rothman received Washington University Law School’s distinguished alumni award.

Mr. Rothman had a lifelong love of horses and was a true equestrian.  He also enjoyed antiques, history and boating.

Funeral services were scheduled for Wednesday May 1 at Temple Israel, #1 Rabbi Alvan D. Rubin, with Rabbi Amy Feder officiating.  Visitation will be at 10 a.m. with the service at 11 a.m.  Burial will be at the Beth Hamedrosh Hagodol Cemetery on Ladue Road.

Survivors include his wife, Judith Kriegshauer Rothman, and children David Rothman (Mary); Sarah Rubin (Philip); Rachel Rothman (Glenn Chenalloy) of Los Angeles and Daniel Rothman (Jennifer) of Des Moines and his ex-wife Geraldine Serot (Donald) of Lakeland, Fla., and nine grandchildren.

Memorial contributions preferred to Longmeadow Rescue Ranch, Union, Mo., or to an animal rescue charity of the donor’s choice.