Mingo mourns the death of businessman and longtime MCRA board member
By Bruce Justice 05/07/2021
Mingo County continues this week to mourn the death of a well-known area businessman described by one official as being as a “visionary,” an “innovator,” and a “friend.”
James B. Simpkins, 72, of Delbarton, died last Wednesday, April 28, after a coal silo that his company—S & S Recycling — was razing in Boone County collapsed and covered both him and the piece of equipment he was operating under the rubble.
Boone County authorities said Simpkins’ company had been contracted to tear down and remove the former Patriot Coal-owned Hobet Mine tipple/silo facility and that he had been working near the silo at the time of the structure’s collapse at around 5 p. m.
His body was sent to the State Medical Examiner’s Office in Charleston shortly after rescue workers recovered it from the debris.
Having served as a member of the West Virginia House of Delegates from 1981 through 1986, Simpkins was credited for, among many other accomplishments, helping secure what local officials say at the time was nearly nonexistent public water and sewage infrastructure funding for Mingo County.
He was also the longest serving member on the Mingo County Redevelopment Authority’s Board of Directors.
As an original board member since the MCRA was established in 1989, the news of Simpkins’ death was met with a combination of bewilderment, grief, and a pronounced sense of loss by staff and fellow board members.
Board member Paul Pinson described Simpkins as the personification of the MCRA and its mission.
“He was the heart and soul of the Redevelopment Authority ... a founding member,” Pinson said this week. “He always led us in prayer before every luncheon and meeting we had…he was just a very good man we’re all going to miss deeply.
“But I will also say this: James loved his work and at the time of his death he was doing what he absolutely loved to do.”
Executive Director Leasha Johnson said as the MCRA’s longest-serving board member the agency lost an important part of its history with Simpkins’ passing. “James was a visionary; he was an innovator, he was our problem solver, our strategist, our moral compass, our spiritual leader, and most importantly, he was our friend,” Johnson also said earlier this week. Throughout the years, Simpkins had operated several types of businesses in Mingo County. A sawmill and lumber yard, a surface mining operation, an experimental agricultural project, a cattle farm, a greenhouse, and, most recently, S & S Recycling located near his home at Cow Creek, were among his many business interests.
“During the past few years, his recycling company has demolished countless coal preparation plants and beltlines as coal companies closed due to industry shifts or depletion of coal reserves,” Johnson said. “His businesses provided countless jobs to Mingo Countians for the past 30 to 40 years, and his entrepreneurial ingenuity fostered his ability to pivot from one specialty business to another with shifts in economic trends.” Johnson said Simpkins and well-known Gilbert businessman and philanthropist James “Buck” Harless were instrumental in identifying the need for the MCRA as well the types of individuals required to initially lead it. And, like Pinson, Johnson additionally described Simpkins as being “the embodiment of a public servant.”
“Though his contributions have led to transformational developments in Mingo County, such as the Hatfield-McCoy Trails and the many projects which were fostered by the Land Use Master Plan, he never expected recognition,” Johnson said. “James’ memory will live tangibly forever through the lessons we’ve learned from him and our commitment to serve Mingo County with the humility and selflessness we’ve all learned from him. His family is our family, and we pray that God will comfort them and give them peace that surpasses all understanding.”
Funeral services were held Thursday, May 6, at the Chafin Funeral Home in Delbarton. Interment followed at the Simpkins Family Cemetery at Beech Creek.