I am in shock.
Yesterday I learned that Professor Stuart McGehee of Bluefield had died. Stuart was introduced to me two years ago by Virginia Tech's renowned Civil War historian, Bud Robertson. When I told Bud that I was working on a book about the formation of West Virginia and the relationship of that state to its parent state, Virginia, he told me that Stuart knew as much about it as anyone alive. As Bud busily scratched out contact information for Stuart, something came over me and I asked Bud if he would be willing to call on Stuart personally with me. I was delighted when he said yes. So Bud and I made the trip to Bluefield together to see Stuart at the Bluefield Library, where he headed the Eastern Regional Coal Archives. Stuart was so open and helpful, in many ways it was the easiest interview I ever did.
It is a severe understatement and a disservice to the word to call Stuart “interesting.” Stuart was intelligent, insightful, loquacious, and energetic. I can only imagine how much his students looked forward to his lectures.
It is also a severe understatement to say how indebted I am to Stuart as for the insights he offered so freely towards the formation of West Virginia, the information that laid the foundation for my book. I couldn’t have written my book without him!
The thought I have had about Stuart sounds almost like a cliché. Almost everyone I met along The Spine of the Virginias was more than willing to share their stories with me. Occasionally, however, I would be rebuffed in my entreaties. Whenever that happened, I would say to myself, It doesn't matter whether that person speaks to me because I got a great interview from Stuart McGehee and his was the only truly essential interview. It pains me to know that I will never be able to hand him a signed copy.
According to news articles, Stuart committed suicide with a single gunshot wound to his head. I am told by a mutual friend that Stuart had recently been diagnosed with fast-moving pancreatic cancer. My understanding is that pancreatic cancer is invariably fatal. I have often seen in obituaries as the phrase, “He fought a valiant battle against cancer.” I cannot say that suicide is a valiant way to go. However, it seems entirely fitting with Stuart's personality. If faced with a similar situation, I would find the same solution tempting. Nobody wants to die a morphine-laden, expensive, prolonged death in a hospital bed. Stuart was 55 years old, the same age as me.
I mourn Stuart's loss. I was only in his company two times, but he had a profound impact on me. His loss takes some of the luster off this brilliant, warm winter day and much joy away from the scores of people he touched during his life along The Spine of the Virginias.
The Bluefield newspaper’s article is here: