Larry Gibson, WV environmental activist, dies at his home at 66 - Business, Government Legal News from throughout WV

Larry Gibson remembered for passion to protect mountains

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Environmental activist Larry Gibson is remembered as a man who shared his personal experience to defend mountain communities against industrial encroachment.

Gibson, 66, died of a heart attack Sunday on Kayford Mountain in Raleigh County,

Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition founder and Co-Director Dianne Bady first knew Gibson when he supported OVEC's campaign against a pulp mill in Mason County in the early 1990s. He later served on OVEC's board of directors.

"Larry came to me and he said, you know, we've just got to get the word out in the state about what's going on with mountaintop removal," Bady recalled of the moment in 1999 when Gibson proposed to walk across the state to educate residents about the mountaintop mining that was taking place near his family home.

When Gibson was a boy, his family had moved from the Kayford Mountain home where he was born and where ancestors back into the 1700s were buried. He'd had to learn to live in urban northern Ohio, Bady said, and later worked in the automobile industry until an injury sent him back home to Raleigh County.

But Gibson's life back at the homestead was disrupted by mountaintop mining that came right up to a family cemetery plot.

When he proposed the walk, "Some of us at OVEC were so worried that it would be really dangerous for Larry to do that. We actually tried to talk him out of it, and he was so determined and he said he wanted to walk right through the coalfields," Bady said.

In the end, Gibson did walk from Harper's Ferry across southern West Virginia to Huntington, educating the state's residents about the effects of large scale surface mines and valley fills.

"When it came time for him to walk through the coalfields, people who had been walking with him were very understandably reluctant and everybody was trying to talk him into changing his route — he absolutely refused," she said. "He was jeered, he was heckled, but he didn't give up and he made it, over 500 miles from one end of the state to the other. To me, remembering Larry, that is just so poignant because it speaks to the incredible courage and determination that this man had."

Mountaintop mining expanded over time to surround Gibson's family home. Bady thought of an incident in the early 2000s when Gibson watched as mining equipment ripped through a family cemetery, his best efforts unable to stop it.

His experience led to a push by OVEC and others that resulted in legislation that increased protections for family cemeteries.

"That's a very concrete example of Larry watching what he felt was a mining company's employees deliberately — disrespect is too soft a word — desecrating what he held sacred and the intense pain he felt about that," Bady said, "and because of that he stimulated an effort to first of all research the state laws and then figure out how they could be made better."

Gibson started the Keepers of the Mountain Foundation in 2004 to inspire protection of mountain communities and to end mountaintop mining. He has traveled nationally and internationally to speak about mountaintop mining.

"Young people have been so moved by Larry's dedication that they have dedicated their lives to trying to preserve the mountains and preserve the mountain communities that continue to be threatened," Bady said of the activists who have become part of Gibson's effort.

In 2007, was named a CNN Hero.

Gibson is survived by a wife and three children. The family has asked that those who wish to express their condolences donate to his Keeper of the Mountains Foundation, online at mountainkeeper.blogspot.com. A public memorial service will be announced at a later time.

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