West Virginia Environmental Activist Larry Gibson Dies

News started rolling in via blogs and Twitter last night that prominent anti-mountaintop removal activist Larry Gibson was dead at age 66.

Gibson returned to his family’s home on Kayford Mountain in Kanawha County, West Virginia in 1986, and spent the next quarter-century fighting the mountaintop removal operations that were slowly surrounding his land.

Gibson used his property on Kayford as a way to educate everyone–from journalists to students to environmental groups–about mountaintop removal. He led tours to the edge of his land, where visitors could look down on the active mining operations, which stretched as far as the eye could see. I went up to his mountain a few times while reporting on coal mining in West Virginia, and Gibson was a familiar site at the State Capitol too, where he lobbied for stricter environmental protections.

The Charleston Daily Mail and Charleston Gazette both have remembrances of Gibson, and Gazette reporter Ken Ward Jr. revisits some of his older interviews with Gibson on his blog. In the Daily Mail article, Gibson’s daughter Victoria shares memories of her father:

“When my dad passed away you could still smell the mountain air on him,” Victoria said. “You could still see the dirt underneath his nails and the stains on his hands. He was working.

“He lived his life devoted to the mountain.”

Victoria, 24, could recall going with her father as a young child to speak out against mountaintop removal. He was passionate about the subject because it was destroying the home he knew as a child, she said.

“He had so much fire in his voice,” she said. “He had so much passion. It’d make you shake. He could bring a whole room of people to tears.”

Gibson’s death, as well as the death of fellow West Virginia environmental activist Judy Bonds in January 2011, will likely leave a void among the organizations in Appalachia fighting mountaintop removal.

Erica Peterson

Erica Peterson reports on energy and the environment for WFPL.

@ericampeterson

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