BECKLEY, W.Va. — Residents throughout the Raleigh County seat of Beckley and across southern West Virginia continue to mourn the loss of a well-known former mayor.
Emmett Pugh, III served as mayor from 1988 to 2013. This makes him the longest serving mayor in Beckley’s history. Prior to becoming mayor, he also served on the Beckley Common Council for nine years.
Pugh died Thursday, May 10 at Duke University Hospital in North Carolina following a sudden illness.
“Gosh, we just can’t say enough good things about Emmett Pugh,” Bill O’Brien told MetroNews affiliate WJLS. O’Brien succeeded Pugh for the seat of mayor in 2013. “He offered to meet with me to give me an idea of what I had gotten into. We had a couple of phone calls together and he said ‘don’t hesitate to get hold of me if you need any questions answered’. He was always there.”
Pugh is known for several accomplishments during his mayorship. Word Park, Beckley’s Rails-to-Trails system, the Beckley Intermodal Gateway and two new fire stations are among the several items Pugh helped make happen. Despite this, O’Brien said Pugh always remained humble.
“Just a true gentleman and very, very knowledgeable,” said O’Brien. “A lot of people don’t realize all of the things that Emmett Pugh accomplished during those 25 years because he liked to be in the background. He liked other people to shine.”
O’Brien described Beckley’s economic situation in 1988 as “stagnant”. Pugh helped start an upward trend to help the city to continue to be the economic driver of southern West Virginia.
“I remember the time when one of the shopping centers was a junk yard and we just didn’t have much development. Southern West Virginia realizes that Beckley is the hub, the shopping center and the medical center of southern West Virginia. Emmett Pugh’s leadership as mayor made that happen.”
Current Mayor of Beckley Rob Rappold attended Pugh’s services. Rappold served 22 of Pugh’s 25-year mayorship as a councilman-at-large.
“In many respects he was not only a very good friend, but a mentor for me. He was a very kind and gentle spirit. He loved to laugh, he loved his family, he loved his dogs…just the best, all-around guy.”
Among several accolades, Pugh earned the Lifetime Achievement Award from the West Virginia Municipal League. He also received the Spirit of Beckley Award in 2009 from the YMCA of Southern West Virginia.
“I think the main thing was the respect that he always showed. There were times even when I knew that Emmett was probably biting his tongue just a little bit if he didn’t agree with a stance that maybe one of his councilmembers was taking. He still treated them with respect and gave them their opportunity to put forth their line of thinking.”
Pugh died at the age of 67. His services were held in the arena of the Beckley-Raleigh County Convention Center.
View his obituary here.