Former Gov. Hulett Smith dies in Scottsdale, AZ - Business, Government Legal News from throughout WV

Former Gov. Hulett Smith dies in Scottsdale, AZ

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Hulett C. Smith Hulett C. Smith

Former West Virginia Gov. Hulett C. Smith died Jan. 15 in Scottsdale, Ariz., at age 93.

Smith moved last year from Beckley to an assisted living facility in Arizona.

Smith, a Democrat, served from 1965-69. He was born in Beckley on Oct. 21, 1918, to a father who published a newspaper, was Beckley mayor, state senator, U.S. Congressman and chairman of the state Democratic Party.

Smith graduated from the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School.

Smith married Mary Alice Tieche in 1942 and served in the Navy in World War II. He returned to Beckley after the war and served on the boards of the Beckley and Oak Hill hospitals. He also served as vice president of Beckley College, which is now Mountain State University.

Smith was a licensed pilot and served on the state Aeronautics Commission from 1947 to 1959. Smith became chairman of Beckley's Democratic executive committee in 1951. He was named manager of Rep. Robert H. Mollohan's unsuccessful gubernatorial campaign and then his own candidacy for governor in 1959. He lost that race in the primary to Attorney General William Wallace Barron.

Barron appointed Smith head of the new Department of Commerce in 1961. In that role, Smith created the still-running Mountain State Art & Craft Fair at Ripley.

Smith resigned from the Department of Commerce in 1963 to run again for governor. He carried 53 of the state's 55 counties in the 1964 primary election, garnering more votes than his three opponents combined.

While Smith was governor, the death penalty was abolished, new human rights legislation was passed and teacher pay was increased.

During his first year in office, the Legislature passed the first phase of Smith's $32.5 million, three-year school improvement program, which included Project Head Start.

Smith signed a new minimum wage act in 1966, but the Legislature voted down his proposed constitutional amendment that would have allowed the governor to succeed himself. Smith's administration created new strip mine regulations, and he was highly critical of strip mining's harm to West Virginia. The Legislature also passed air and stream pollution control laws, raised taxes and expanded unemployment and workers' compensation benefits.

Smith's proposed $350 million road bond was approved by voters in 1968.

Several scandals involving top officials surfaced during Smith's term as governor. His Motor Vehicle commissioner was indicted on fraud and related charges, and then later convicted. Allegations of improper use of influence in the awarding of state park concessions contracts led to the resignations of two top officials from the Department of Natural Resources.

Because of the state's laws at the time, Smith could not seek a second term. So he returned to Beckley and resumed his activities in civic and philanthropic activities.

Smith's wife, Mary Alice, died in 1987. Smith married the former Nancy Pat Hamilton Lewis in 1990, who died in 2009.

He was predeceased by his wives and his sons, Hulett Jr. and Mark. He is survived by his children Carolyn H. Sheets and her husband, George, of Columbus, Ohio; Alice Christine Merritt of Atlanta, Ga.; Suzaine Smith of Boulder, Colo.; and Paul Smith and wife, Patti, of Beckley.  In addition, he is survived by 12 grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

Funeral arrangements are incomplete and are being handled by Melton Mortuary in Beckley.

Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin said he would remember Smith for his leadership.

"West Virginia is in mourning for one of our native sons who became a champion for better state government during some of the most turbulent times in America's history," Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin said. "Gov. Smith enabled our state to take monumental steps forward during his time in office. Today, we remember the progress made under his leadership, and the man who led the way. Joanne and I send our heartfelt sympathies to his family."

U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., called Smith "a great and trusted friend, and someone I deeply admired" in a news release issued Jan. 16.

"Gov. Smith was a staunch advocate for the less fortunate," Rockefeller said. "He worked tirelessly on behalf of all West Virginians, and he was very kind and open to me when I first arrived in Emmons in 1964.

"Sharon and I are keeping Governor Hulett's family in our thoughts and prayers today and in the days to come."

U.S. Rep. Nick Joe Rahall, D-W.Va., said Jan. 16 that Smith was a born leader.

"Though we will miss him dearly here in Beckley, our state and nation has lost a champion, a thinker and doer, one who led a life of service to his fellow man," Rahall said in a news release. "Hulett's family and mine enjoyed a long and treasured friendship; we are holding them close in our prayers."

Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., former governor of West Virginia, said Smith was the first governor he could remember.

"I remember him visiting Farmington, and he left a powerful legacy of leading our state into the future, whether it was human rights or infrastructure developments," Manchin said in a news release. "Gov. Smith led our state through some of our worst tragedies: the Farmington mine disaster in 1968, the Silver Bridge collapse in Point Pleasant and the assassination of Dr. King."

U.S. Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., said she and her family were saddened to hear of Smith's death. Capito is the daughter of Arch Moore, who served as governor immediately after Smith. 

"(Hulett Smith) was a true leader and a kind gentleman who left a positive mark on our state," Capito said in a news release. "When my father was elected governor, Hulett and Mary Alice were gracious and helpful during the transition, and they remained lifelong friends.  We will keep his family in our thoughts and prayers."

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