HUNTINGTON — Jean Dean, who served as mayor of Huntington from 1993 to 2000, has died, her family confirmed.
Justin Gibson, Dean’s son, said she died Saturday morning. Her health had been deteriorating, he said. Funeral arrangements are pending at Beard Mortuary in Huntington.
“She considered it a great honor to serve the people,” Gibson said.
He emphasized his mother’s passion for Huntington.
“We lost a graceful giant today,” current Mayor Steve Williams said in a statement. “Our city owes Mayor Jean Dean an enormous measure of gratitude for her years of service to our city. Her vision, determination and graceful countenance set a foundation on which we continue to benefit.”
Dean made history as the first woman to be elected as mayor in Huntington. Before that, she was director of administration and finance — a position similar to a city manager — under then-Mayor Bobby Nelson.
Late in his second term, Dean resigned from that role so she could run against him. She won election in the next cycle, and was re-elected in 1997.
Her second term was cut short by half a year after voters approved a charter amendment to move city elections to coincide with statewide elections. She ran for a third term in 2000, when she was defeated by David Felinton.
Gibson said Dean moved to Huntington from London after marrying her first husband, Richard Thomas Gibson. Dean got a job as an administrative assistant with the city and then worked her way up, Gibson said. He added that Dean would do and did do everything she could to make Huntington better.
Gibson said his mother was willing to work with representatives in Congress, local business leaders and residents to support the city.
“Whatever she could do to improve the quality of life for the citizens of Huntington, she would give everything to do that,” he said.
City manager Hank Dial said he began working with Dean when he was in the administrative unit of the Huntington Police Department and she was director of administration and finance for the city. He said they became fast friends.
“She was a mentor of mine and a lot of people that work for the city today,” Dial said.
Dial said Dean “fully embraced being a Huntingtonian,” adding that she cared deeply about the city and was a devoted public servant and leader.
He said her knowledge and love of Huntington were unparalleled as she worked in all levels of city government.
“She was a wonderful lady and a friend of Huntington,” Dial said.
The Jean Dean Public Safety Building, at the corner of 10th Street and 7th Avenue, houses the police department.
Dean was mayor when Amazon located an East Coast customer service center in the city. It was housed in the upper two floors of the police building until it relocated to a new building at Kinetic Park, a technology and business park for which Dean laid the groundwork.
Dean also hosted the afternoon radio show “Tri-State Viewpoint with Jean Dean” on WRVC AM-FM for 14 years, hosting local guests who discussed a variety of topics. It went off the air in early 2015.
“Jean and I together shared a live radio show every Friday in Huntington for some time. I will always cherish those hours of on-air and off-the-air conversations, laughs and advice,” said Fred H. Kitchen, owner of Henson & Kitchen Mortuary, in a Facebook post Saturday. “When we started the show, it was with handshakes and a ‘we’ll see how this goes’ relationship and quickly evolved to where we greeted each other with hugs. She was a true lady, which I highly respected and am forever grateful for that time in my life.”
Dean was married to E. Keith Dean, a well-known architect who worked in Huntington for more than 50 years. He died in 2011 at age 84.
“An evening spent with Jean and Keith was a lesson on what a marriage should be,” Mike Kirtner, president of Kindred Communications, said at the time of Keith’s death. “The two were completely dedicated to each other. They had an individual strength. Collectively, they were incredible.”
The Deans were members of Johnson Memorial United Methodist Church in Huntington.
Former Wheeling Mayor Jack Lipphardt said in a Facebook post that he became friends with Dean when they led their respective cities.
In the post, he shared an anecdote from their time in office. The two wagered on a hockey game between the Huntington Blizzard and the then Wheeling Thunderbirds. Lipphardt said the bet was 50 loaves of Heiner’s bread and something else versus 50 loaves of Bachman’s bread and 50 pounds of Wheeling Cut Nails.
The products would be given to a food pantry and Habitat for Humanity in the winning city. Huntington won, so Lipphardt had to come to a Blizzard game to pay off the bet.
“I told her there were only 49 pounds of nails since I chewed up a pound while driving to Huntington smelling that glorious fresh baked bread,” Lipphardt wrote. “Jean’s middle names are ‘kindness,’ ‘grace’ and ‘compassionate strength.’ Prayers for comfort and peace for her family and all who were touched by her.”