Today marks the 42nd anniversary of the passing of my maternal grandfather, Jerry E. Stidham. Papaw Stidham was 59 years old when a major heart attack took his life. It is hard to believe he would be 101 years old if he were still with us today.
He was a wonderful father, husband and grandfather, a great role model, and one of the finest gentlemen I have ever known.
Born in "Bloody" Breathitt County, Kentucky, he came to Logan County, WV as a young boy with his parents, Asbury and Lucinda Stidham. Asbury was a blacksmith in the coal mines, and Lucinda was his second wife. Jerry was the only son from their marriage.
He worked around the coal mines as a boy and a young man, growing up in the coal fields. After graduation from high school he entered the mines full time. Papaw had an insatiable appetite for knowledge, and he read anything he could get his hands on, whenever he could find a few extra minutes. He knew hard work, and difficulties. He and his wife, Mary, lost two children, one boy in infancy and a 12 year old daughter to leukemia. My mother was the oldest child, and the other surviving children were a son and a daughter. Only Mom and Aunt Dori remain today, and Mom is suffering from the cruel disease called Alzheimer's.
Papaw worked his way up in the coal mines through hard work and outstanding people skills. He was employed for several years by Island Creek Coal Company in the Holden, WV area. Eventually he was elected to serve Logan County in the West Virginia House of Delegates, where he served along side of such future well known West Virginia political figures as Robert C. Byrd, Arch Moore, Jr, A. James Manchin, Cecil Underwood, and W.W. Baron.
He was also a poet, and was named West Virginia Poet Laureate by Governor Hulett C. Smith in the mid 1960's.
Eventually, Papaw went to work for the United Mine Workers of America as a union representative. I have vivid memories of his home phone ringing off the hook at all hours, with calls from miners who were in need of his help. He worked out of the District 17 office on Kanawha Boulevard, in Charleston, and ran the Logan, WV field office for a number of years. He was walking out of the White and Browning office building (where his office was located) when the first of two heart attacks felled him on that Friday afternoon, 42 years ago.
He was a friend and a servant of the working men of the coalfields, and was loved and respected by many. At the age of 18, I remember counting 91 automobiles in his funeral procession that travelled from #20 Whitman Community Church to the Forest Lawn Cemetery on that hot August day when we buried him. As a little boy, I remember two pictures that hung on his living room wall - Jesus praying in the Garden of Gethsemane, and John L. Lewis, the bushy eyebrowed President of the UMWA.
Papaw was always a good moral man, but his life drastically changed in February, 1960 when he gave his life to Christ. For the last eight years of his life, he worked for the UMWA and the Lord Jesus Christ with an equal amount of fervency. He eventually served two churches as pastor, including the one where he had met Jesus several years earlier.
He had a very full, but in perspective, brief life on this earth, and made a difference in the lives of many people - especially his 10 grandchildren. The sobering thought is that I am now older than he was when he left us. Seems unbelievable! Mamaw went to join him in Heaven on the Monday after Easter in 1996, and I still miss them both so much!
I could not let this day pass without taking a moment to thank God for my wonderful family, of which Jerry Stidham was such a key member.
I love you, Papaw.
See you soon.