Local officials praise Rockefeller's work
HUNTINGTON -- U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller's announcement that he plans to retire when his term expires in 2014 yielded some disappointment and plenty of gratitude from local officials Friday who lauded his decades of service to West Virginia.
Local officials were quick to praise the adopted son of West Virginia for choosing to serve a state that he came to from New York in 1964 at the age of 27 as VISTA worker. He went on to hold various elected officers, including two terms as governor before becoming a U.S. Senator in 1984.
One of those supporters who previously traveled to Asia with Rockfeller and attended Rockefeller's announcement in Charleston on Friday was Mike Perry, co-founder of Heritage Farm Museum and Village and retired chairman and CEO of Bank One West Virginia.
As a West Virginian, Perry is disappointed that Rockefeller's influence will no longer be at work within the federal government, but he's grateful for the many years of hard work and sacrifice.
"By 2014, he will have served West Virginia for 50 years in some type of public service, and I deeply appreciate the sacrifice his wife, Sharon, and he have made to devote as much time in service as he has," Perry said. "He has been an extremely dedicated servant."
Perry admitted that, like many West Virginians at the time, he was a little skeptical of "this tall fellow from New York named Rockefeller," when he first began his political career here.
"I've become convinced by watching him and observing him that he's dedicated his life to the people of West Virginia and proven himself through sacrifice," Perry said. "He's left an indelible imprint of public service and greatly enhanced the quality of life for our people."
During his career, the Democrat authored the Children's Health Insurance Program, which covered 40,000 West Virginia kids and eight million children nationwide in 2011 alone; helped to expand and diversify the state's economy, including his efforts to bring the Toyota plant to Buffalo, which has 1,200 current jobs and represents a total investment of $1.3 billion; and fought for benefits and care for seniors and veterans' benefits.
The latter is something that Democratic Cabell County Commissioner Bob Bailey said has been of great importance to a state with an aging population and a high rate of servicemen and women.
"He took care of veterans and seniors," Bailey said. "He brought of a lot of good things to West Virginia. He didn't have to come to West Virginia, but I think he saw it as his calling."
Dr. Charles McKown, the former dean of the Marshall University School of Medicine, added that Rockefeller understood and was concerned for the health and well-being of the state's residents.
"There are very few areas of health education or venues of health care -- in all geographic corners of the state -- that he has not made a significant and sustaining contribution to," McKown said.