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Bert Combs: The Fern Hill Years

Appearance Date: 11/6/2021

Instead of retiring and fading into the sunset as he had planned, Bert Combs—lawyer, governor, judge, mountain man—began writing a whole new chapter of his life when he and his law clerk, Sara Walter, fell in love and got married. Chasing a dream in the mountains of Eastern Kentucky, Bert and Sara bought an old farm and built a log house. Fern Hill was born! Far from the high-rise law offices of Louisville and Lexington, “Judge,” as Sara called him, raised a vegetable garden, cultivated roses, doted on miniature horses, and nurtured a host of stray cats and dogs. Then, inspired by the mountain soil that energized him and by the mystique of Fern Hill, Combs agreed to represent a group of school superintendents seeking to reform Kentucky schools in Rose v. Council for Better Education, a case of unprecedented constitutional significance. This is the story of the last thirteen years of Bert Combs’s life: his Fern Hill years. It is filled with history and biography, hilarity and heartache, frustration and fulfillment. Most of all, it is a love story.

Meet the Author

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Sara Walter Combs

Sara Walter Combs was born in Louisville, Kentucky, and received her BA, MA, and JD degrees from the University of Louisville. A former teacher of French and Spanish, she met Bert Combs during her last year of law school. They moved “home to the mountains” of Eastern Kentucky together and built Fern Hill, their beloved farm. In addition to caring for Fern Hill, Sara is an appellate judge. She was the first woman to serve on the Supreme Court of Kentucky, appointed to the same seat formerly occupied by her late husband. After losing the election to retain that seat, she was elected to the Kentucky Court of Appeals, where she has remained for 28 years, authoring more than 2,500 appellate opinions and participating in more than 5,000 associate cases. Sara still tends to Fern Hill and the many critters who live there.