For three generations the Grayson family has had a significant role in shaping the Commonwealth’s political and financial landscape. Their family legacy has revolved around community involvement, support for all kinds of good works and leadership in countless organizations.

After two terms as Kentucky Secretary of State and an unsuccessful bid for a U.S. Senate seat, Trey Grayson, who represents the third generation, is carrying on the family tradition of leadership at one of the finest academic institutions in the world. He’s the director of the Institute of Politics at Harvard University, established in 1966 in memory of President John F. Kennedy.

It’s an achievement that can be traced to the Grayson men who came before him, starting with his grandfather, Charles Merwin—“Mer”—Grayson Sr., a quiet, elegant banker who raised a family in Park Hills back when Edgewood and Villa Hills were both dreams for developers. Then came Mer Jr., a tall, engaging fellow who followed in his father’s banking footsteps, and inherited his leadership skills and devotion to community as well.

Name a community organization in Northern Kentucky and you’ll find that Mer Jr. has been involved somehow – and usually led the way. His biggest contribution to Northern Kentucky, however, may very well be the bride he brought home, Susan Rhodes Grayson of Paducah. Susan was a former Miss Kentucky finalist he met as a student at the University of Kentucky. He had the pleasure of crowning her Queen of the Little Kentucky Derby in May of 1963. Their first date was Derby Day in 1967. They married in June of 1968. Susan taught school, coached cheerleading, and became an avid golfer, a tireless community volunteer, and the anchor of a busy, growing family.

Mer Jr. started his banking career at First National Bank in Cincinnati but later joined his father at Peoples Liberty Bank. At age 35, he was lured to the presidency of Covington Trust. Huntington Bank acquired Covington Trust in 1986 and Mer Jr. continued as president until “retiring” in 2001 to Dataw Island, South Carolina. His retirement ended in 2005 when Central Bank called on the popular local banking icon to head up their effort to enter the Northern Kentucky market, where the bank now has three locations and approximately $150 million in assets.

But Mer Jr.’s career in banking pales in comparison to his community service on the boards of St. Elizabeth Healthcare (and founding the St. Elizabeth Healthcare Foundation), Northern Kentucky University, the University of Kentucky, Thomas More College, the Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce, Greater Cincinnati United Way, The Greater Cincinnati Fine Arts, Tri County Economic Development, and most recently the Northern Kentucky Education Council, Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport and the Markey Cancer Center at UK.

Today, Mer Jr., at 71, is still going strong, but he saves his accolades for his only son, Trey, who decided to take the public service route.

“In the summer of 1989 Trey attended the Governors Scholars Program on the Centre College Campus and returned home with a burning desire to help Kentucky. Public service was the key to achieving that end,” says Mer Jr. “He never looked back.”

Trey, a 1990 Dixie Heights High School graduate, was an academic standout who won his first statewide election as Secretary of State in 2003 to become the youngest Secretary of State in the nation and the first Northern Kentuckian to be elected to a state constitutional office in almost 100 years. He was re-elected in 2007. He distinguished himself by modernizing the office through technology, enhancing civics education in classrooms throughout the state and in assuring honest elections.

Trey prepared himself for public service early on. With an undergraduate degree in government from Harvard, he earned the prestigious Bert Combs Scholarship to the University of Kentucky College of Law and got an MBA as well.

Trey says he knew when he headed to Harvard as a freshman that his future would be in banking, law or politics. “I am the son of the son of a banker,” he says with a smile. “I might have gone into banking with my father except that Huntington Bank had nepotism rules.” Just as well, because by the time he graduated from Harvard both his heart and head were in politics.

While practicing law back home, he became active in Republican circles and was encouraged by U.S. Sens. Jim Bunning and Mitch McConnell, and other Republican heavyweights, to run for Secretary of State in 2003. He also was invited to join the Senior Advisory Committee of the Institute of Politics at Harvard. The bipartisan board of 12 included such notables as Elaine Chao, Caroline Kennedy and Caroline’s uncle, the late U.S. Senator Ted Kennedy.

That appointment opened more doors and put him on course for a major adventure: He joined the IOP as director in 2011, resigning as Secretary of State near the end of his second term to take the job. It might seem odd that a card-carrying Kentucky Republican would end up as the director of a Harvard institution so closely associated with the Kennedy family, but in this case familiarity has bred respect. Trey had nothing but praise for Caroline Kennedy when President Obama last summer nominated her as America’s ambassador to Japan.

“As a tireless Chair of the IOP’s Senior Advisory Committee, Caroline has inspired countless young people to heed President Kennedy’s iconic call to service and believe that they can make a difference,” he said in a statement issued by the IOP. “She has played a pivotal role in allowing the Institute…to achieve its mission of encouraging the next generation to consider careers in politics and public service. She is an exceptional choice to inspire our nation and represent America.”

Trey is a nationally recognized expert on election law, and, as the IOP’s director, on the political attitudes of the so-called Millennials, the 18 to 29 age group. He told The New York Times last spring, “If you are 24 years old, all you know is petty partisan politics while big issues aren’t getting addressed, while the economy is still struggling. So you wonder whether the governing institutions of your country are up to the task.”

On a recent visit to Northern Kentucky, he regaled a packed crowd at the annual dinner of the Covington Business Council with a keynote speech on his research into Millennials. His schedule also included several press interviews, morning golf with high school friends, an afternoon meeting with NKU President Geoff Mearns, an appearance at the Western Kentucky Fancy Farm political event and the Reds-Cardinals game.

“Trey was a very good student and a good athlete in high school,” says Mer Jr. But being an Equal Opportunity Proud Father, Mer Jr. is also quick to praise his daughter, Susan “Suzy” Grayson Hill.

“Suzy was also a very good student and perhaps a better athlete than Trey. She played volleyball, basketball, golf and tennis. Her basketball team won the regional tournament and played in the Kentucky State Tournament in 1992.”

Suzy lives in Ft. Mitchell with her husband Ron and two daughters, Avery, 8, and Emery, 6. She is a change management consultant to Toyota, spending most of her time at Toyota’s manufacturing headquarters in Erlanger and traveling to California monthly for the car maker’s sales and marketing headquarters. Though she prefers a low profile, she’s a chip off the family block, involved in volunteer fundraising for the Cincinnati Ballet.

In the small-world category, Suzy and Trey’s future wife, Nancy, met at a church camp in Irvine as youngsters and became friends. It was during Suzy’s wedding in 1998 where Trey and Nancy sparked a romance. They were engaged in the spring of 1999 and married in January 2000. They have two daughters, Alex, 12, and Kate, 10.

Mer Jr. and Susan are more than ready to pass the mantle of the family legacy to their children and grandchildren. “The future is with Trey and Suzy and our four grandgirls,” Mer Jr. says.

The big question about Trey throughout Kentucky, is whether he will run again for elected public office. His wife thinks he will. His father thinks a university presidency could be in the future. As for Trey’s own thoughts: “I’m enjoying the current adventure. But who knows what the future holds?”