Sometimes bad things happen to good people. That’s what happened when an accident took the life of Chris Cline and the other passengers on board his helicopter. He, his daughter and his and her friends perished on the Fourth of July when most Americans were celebrating a holiday with their families and friends.
A week later, a memorial was held at the Raleigh County Convention Center in Beckley, West Virginia. Hundreds of people attended, including West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice, who is considered a family friend, along with other dignitaries. Brian Glasser delivered a powerful eulogy and he graciously allowed Coal Age to publish it. It appears in the News section in its entirety.
When coal historians look back on this era, the early 21st century, Cline will be remembered for his professional achievements. He was the prodigy of a coal mining family who lived near Pineville, West Virginia, whose career path as a miner and eventually an owner led him to build the Foresight Energy complex in Illinois. For years, coal operators tried to add longwalls to continuous miner operations. The infrastructure could not handle the increased production. Cline built safe longwall mines with mind-blowing production capacities.
The editorial team at Coal Age wanted to pay tribute to him. Unfortunately, we were unable to attend the memorial. We turned to the local press for an obituary. We found one in the Beckley Register-Herald, but what we also found were hundreds of comments from the people whose lives he had touched. They were written mostly by the wives of miners. Some talked about the gifts their husbands received and others talked about Cline covering expenses and providing the means for families to be together.
The struggles with day-to-day life in Central Appalachia (CAPP) have been well-documented. It’s a hard-scrabble life and the odds are certainly stacked against the younger generation in the region climbing to the top like Cline did. The coal business still affords that opportunity with jobs and a respectable way to earn a living, just not as many as it used to.
The cover story this month documents some of the activity that is taking place in the CAPP region against the backdrop of 10 years ago, when coal production nationwide had reached its zenith. Back then, more than 700 CAPP mines produced 259 million tons collectively. Today, the region produces about 27 million tons from 328 mines. Yes, it’s a little less than half what it used to be, but the good news is that the business has stabilized. Moreover, some companies are investing in new mines and trying to restart idled operations. It’s a way of life for this region.
Most of us were born into the mining business. Cline loved the region and he also cared deeply about his friends and family, his miners and their safety. He never forgot his roots and he was generous. That’s a proud Appalachian legacy.