July 3, 1989: Governor Okey Patteson Dies

Okey Patteson

On July 3, 1989, West Virginia’s 23rd Governor Okey Patteson died at age 90. As a child, the Mingo County native had moved with his family to Mount Hope in Fayette County, where he later sold cars and real estate.

Tragedy struck in 1932, when Patteson was 34. While bird hunting with his brother-in-law, Patteson leaned his loaded 12-gauge shotgun against his car, thinking the safety was on. When he slammed one of the car doors, the shotgun went off, shooting his feet from under him. Doctors in Beckley amputated both of Patteson’s legs below the knees and fitted him with artificial limbs. Within four months, he was walking again and driving his own car.

A Democrat, he was elected Fayette County sheriff, then managed Clarence Meadow’s successful gubernatorial campaign in 1944. Patteson became a key assistant to Governor Meadows, earning the nickname the “Great Persuader.” 

Patteson succeeded Meadows as governor in 1949. During his four years in office, Okey Patteson broke ground for the West Virginia Turnpike, but he’s best remembered for his then-controversial decision to place West Virginia’s first medical school in Morgantown.