In memoriam: Several notable West Virginians died during 2012 - Clarksburg, Morgantown: News, Sports, Weather

In memoriam: Several notable West Virginians died during 2012

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W.Va. Gov. Hulett Smith W.Va. Gov. Hulett Smith
Dr. Mildred Mitchell-Bateman Dr. Mildred Mitchell-Bateman
WVU Coach Bill Stewart WVU Coach Bill Stewart

A former governor, a pioneer in mental health and former West Virginia University football coach were among the state's noted personalities who passed away in 2012.

Hulett C. Smith was the governor of West Virginia from 1965-69. A native of Beckley, the 93-year-old Smith was residing in Arizona when he died on Jan. 14.

While the Democrat was governor, the death penalty was abolished, human rights legislation and a $350 million road bond passed, teacher pay was increased and the first phase of a $32.5 million, three-year school improvement program was approved. He lost his re-election bid to Republican Arch A. Moore in the 1968 election.

Mental health pioneer Dr. Mildred Mitchell-Bateman died on Jan. 25 in Charleston at the age of 89. In 1962, she became the first black woman to head a state agency when she was selected director of the Department of Mental Health, holding the position for 15 years. Mildred Mitchell-Bateman Hospital in Huntington is named in her honor.

Bill Stewart had a lengthy career in coaching, including a stint as head football coach at West Virginia University. The New Martinsville native died May 21 at the age of 59 while on a golf outing in Lewis County. 

He had a two-year record of 28-12 as head coach with the Mountaineers after taking over the program from Rich Rodriguez in 2007. His first game as head coach was a 48-28 victory over Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl. He was replaced by current coach Dana Holgersen. 

The state also bid a final farewell to several other noted West Virginians, including the following:

  • Parkersburg businessman Jack Raymond Murray died Jan. 27. He was the founder and 40-year owner of Murray Sheet Metal.
  • George Esper, a former Associated Press correspondent who refused to leave his post in the final days of the Vietnam War, died Feb. 4 in Massachusetts. Esper retired from the AP in 2000 to become a professor of journalism at his alma mater, West Virginia University.
  • Jim Ritter, a longtime Huntington city councilman died in May from a prolonged illness. Ritter, 67, served almost 20 years on council during two separate stints.
  • Ranson Councilman Howard Shade died from pneumonia one day after winning re-election in June. The 83-year-old had served on the council for 18 years.
  • A Marion County Delegate to the Democratic State Convention, Don "Butch" Furbee, 64, of Fairmont, was killed in a June 9 automobile accident in Kanawha County.
  • The Rt. Rev. Robert P. Atkinson, a former diocesan bishop in West Virginia, died July 4 in Florida. He was the fifth bishop of the state, serving from 1976-1988.
  • Father Robert Scott, a former Marshall University campus minister, died July 16 in New Jersey at age 90. He is remembered for helping the Huntington community heal following a Nov. 14, 1970 plane crash when 75 people died, including the MU football players, coaches, staff and fans. 
  • Shigenji Ikenaga, who was the first Japanese to be recognized as an honorary West Virginian by Gov. Joe Manchin in 2006, died Aug. 7 at age 82. He was the chief executive officer of Eleanor-based Diamond Electric Manufacturing Corp.'s parent company in Japan.
  • A candidate for the House of Delegates, John Rose, Sr., died Oct. 30 in a weather-related accident on his farm near Philippi. A snow-laden branch fell on the Republican candidate for the Legislature. 
  • Ginny Starcher, the first woman elected to the House of Delegates from Jackson County, died Dec. 19 at age 82. A native of Cameron, the Ripley resident also served on the Jackson County Commission.