CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Almost five years ago, a stuffed black bear that had stood outside the office of Attorney General Patrick Morrisey had its front left paw vandalized.
The bear has remained that way since then, displaying state pride but not much swat. It often sported a less-than-dignified green, mossy mitt that resembled a golf course divet.
Senator Randy Smith has been thinking about a solution: himself.
Taxidermy is one of several skills for Smith, a Republican from Tucker County. This past week, Smith spent about an hour one evening in the Capitol hallway, attending to the bear’s paw.
“The DNR got me a bear paw, and I tanned it. So last night, after hours, I came in and replaced it, fixed it,” Smith said. “So now it’s whole again.”
Stuffed black bears — representing West Virginia’s state animal — have a long history in the Capitol hallways.
For many years, then-Secretary of State Ken Hechler displayed two black bears outside his office. One often bore the sign, “We support the right to arm bears.”
When Hechler left office, the bears moved to the office of then-Attorney General Darrell McGraw, Morrisey’s predecessor.
The bears were removed during the transition between Attorney General administrations. Morrisey received some stuffed toy bears from people as a joke.
Then in the middle of 2013, Morrisey obtained a new, large bear to display that was provided by the West Virginia Bear Hunters Association.
A second bear, smaller in size, was unknowingly left behind by the prior Attorney General’s administration. Now both bears sit outside the Attorney General’s Office.
The smaller bear is the one that was vandalized and now is on its way to being fixed by Smith.
“Our office greatly appreciates Sen. Randy Smith’s willingness to fix the bear’s paw,” Morrisey said. “Senator Smith’s graciousness will enhance an experience already enjoyed by folks of all ages who frequently stop and take pictures as they visit our beautiful building.”
The bear still isn’t fully healed. It has pins supporting the newly-replaced paw, which still needs to dry.
The bear has been moved temporarily from the high-traffic location in front of the Attorney General’s office to a little nook behind a wall down the hall. When I stopped in last week, the directions I received were “Go down to the other bear and take a left.” There are no more authentic West Virginia directions than that.
Smith intends to return to the bear this coming week to finish his work.
“I’ve got to let it dry, and I’ll come back and take the pins out and brush it out, touch it up, and it should be as good as new then,” Smith said.
Smith’s taxidermy knowledge grew from his long interest in hunting and fishing.
“I got interested in it and got with an elderly gentleman in Tunnelton, West Virginia, and learned the trade. Then I did it on the side for supplemental income for years,” Smith said, saying that pastime began in 1976 and reached a point where he was doing a hundred or so taxidermy projects a year.
“I still do some once in a while.”
Besides being a senator and a coal company employee, Smith has a variety of hobbies. He fly fishes. He ties flies.
His work on the bear in the Capitol hallway is likely to be the most public display of his handiwork.
“Hopefully when I’m done with it and get the pins out and get it painted and everything you won’t be able to tell,” Smith said.
“Like I said, I am a man of the people. I can probably say there’s never, ever been another state senator who has fixed a bear paw in the state Capitol.”