CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Longtime Kanawha County school board member Pete Thaw has died, leaving behind a legacy of fiscal conservatism and commitment to public service.
Board members received word that Thaw died shortly after midnight, said school board member Becky Jordon, who characterized him as a good man.
“When I first met him, I didn’t like him. I thought he was such an angry old guy. But the more I worked with him, I didn’t always agree with him, but I saw he was loyal and when he said something he stood by it.
“He was very passionate about what he believed in. There were years where I’d leave a board meeting and didn’t vote with him but always left that Pete Thaw was my friend when I left the board meeting — which was more important to me.”
Thaw, an 86-year-old Fort Hill resident, had served on the board about 20 years, starting in 1998.
He had a reputation as a fiscal conservative, known for his concern about the school system’s finances. When he was first elected, he had been one of the leaders of a group called Workers Against School Tax Excess, which had worked to defeat a proposed $98 million school bond.
His message to voters was simply “Had enough?”
By 2010, he was elected president of the board.
“They said it would be a cold day in Hell when I would be elected board president,” Thaw told reporters that year.
In recent years, his health required him to participate in meetings via telephone although Jordon said he had been able to attend some recent meetings in person.
“The past couple of months he has seemed good and perky. I don’t know what happened,” she said. “This is going to be a huge loss for us.”
The Kanawha County Board of Education released a statement attributed to Superintendent Ron Duerring.
“Pete has been fighting for this county’s school system and its students for nearly two decades and he will be remembered for his strength, tenacity and courage to stand up for what he believed in – and what he believed was best for each Kanawha County Schools student,” Duerring stated.
“His departure is a true loss and we honor his years of service to this community and its children.”
Thaw’s public service goes back far earlier than his time on the school board.
He served as mayor of Sistersville from 1960 to 1969 and was deputy Secretary of State for West Virginia from 1969 to 1973.
For 11 years, he was state presiding judge for the West Virginia Racing Commission.
Charleston Mayor Danny Jones said he’d known Thaw for 40 years, going back to when Thaw was active with Democratic politics.
“He was actually a friend of Bobby Kennedy’s in the 60s, and he was a big player in Democratic politics at that time,” Jones said. “I first met him during the 1972 Rockefeller campaign, and we got to be friends later on during the Arch Moore days.”
Shelley Moore Capito, daughter of former Governor Moore and currently a U.S. senator, also described her sorrow that Thaw has died. Capito’s comments came through her Twitter account.
“Was so sorry to learn about the passing of Pete Thaw,” Capito said. “As a member of the Kanawha County School Board, Pete served his community with real leadership, passion, & resolve. He was also a dear friend, & our thoughts and prayers are with Pat and the entire Thaw family.”
Jordon said she and the rest of the community will miss Thaw’s consistent presence.
“People trust Pete Thaw, and people think they can rely on him getting it done,” she said. “He really cared about kids. He cared about a lot. He was very passionate.
“There were times when I’d look at him and realize he was tired or wasn’t feeling well. I’d think ‘Gosh, I can’t imagine being your age and wanting to be here.” And I’d think, ‘Thank God you are.’ That’s huge that at his age he still really cared about our school system.”