Former Gov. Gaston W. Caperton III will receive the 2014 Spirit of the Valley award from the YMCA of Kanawha Valley at a noon luncheon in the Charleston Civic Center on Wednesday.
The annual award recognizes individuals from the community who exemplify what Saint Francis described as a life of “charity and wisdom, patience and humility.”
“I came from a family that was very community oriented,” Caperton said during an interview last week. “My mother was born in Japan. Her father and my older sister were missionaries there.”
Stuart McMillan, a Charleston lawyer and current Spirit of the Valley chairman, said the award “is not only a tribute to Gov. Caperton, but to the community as a whole. It is about pride in our community, our Y and our people.
“Gov. Caperton is an exceptional recipient and, being a Charlestonian, we are proud of him and all that he has accomplished both personally and professionally,” McMillan said.
Caperton was born in Charleston on Feb. 21, 1940. After attending and graduating from Episcopal High School in Alexandria, Virginia, and the University of North Carolina, Caperton returned home to manage his family-owned insurance firm.
Under his leadership, the McDonough Caperton Insurance Group became the nation’s 10th largest privately-owned insurance company.
After being inaugurated as the state’s 31st governor on Jan. 16, 1989, Caperton began working to reorganize state government to reduce the large debt that ballooned during the 1980s. To control this growing public debt, Caperton secured legislation to raise taxes and supported a constitutional amendment to adopt a state lottery.
“I faced many problems when I first became governor. One of the first things I had to do was to get the state to raise taxes. That increased employment, brought in new industry and built new schools,” Caperton said last week.
Caperton convinced the Legislature to raise a variety of taxes, including increasing the state sales tax to 6 percent.
“We had to raise taxes and cut expenses. It was terrific legislation. I was willing to do tough things to turn things around. It was not a popular thing for me to do.”
Caperton praised state legislative leaders who helped him – especially Sen. Lloyd Jackson, D-Lincoln, and House Speaker Chuck Chambers, D-Cabell, as well as Tom Heywood, his chief of staff.
During his first term, Caperton reduced West Virginia’s debt from $500 million to a surplus of $100 million.
Caperton also reformed the state’s Workers’ Compensation Fund, a system plagued by increasing shortfalls during the administration of Gov. Arch Moore. Moore was running for his fourth term as governor in 1988, when Caperton defeated him.
A major cause of the rising Workers’ Compensation debt were scams by some coal companies to avoid paying Workers’ Compensation fees, which were then 44 cents for every dollar paid in wages. Some coal companies, including A.T. Massey and Island Creek Coal, routinely hired “independent” contractors who never paid their Worker’s Compensation fees, then went bankrupt or out of business.
After leaving the governor’s office in 1997, Caperton spent the next 15 years working on education.
“I taught at Harvard and Columbia. Then I worked for the College Board, which oversees SAT and Advanced Placement tests, for 12 years.”
Caperton taught at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard and founded the Institute on Education and Government at Columbia University.
In 1999, he became president of the College Board, based in Manhattan. He held that post for 13 years until he stepped down on June 30, 2012.
“For somebody who was dyslexic and who really had to work hard to get an education, I was an unusual pick to be the head of the College Board,” Caperton said.
He moved back to Charleston in 2012 and headed Caperton Consulting for two years. Last month, he became a senior adviser for USI Insurance Services to help that brokerage company, which has 140 offices across the country, expand operations in West Virginia, Kentucky and Virginia.
During the interview last week, Caperton talked about his experiences serving as governor between 1989 and 2007.
He had especially high praise for the role played by the late Sen. Robert C. Byrd, D-W.Va., in getting money to West Virginia, especially for highway construction.
Caperton also praised Fred Van Kirk, the state’s Highways Commissioner during his time in office.
“The three major things I did when I was governor were: building roads and infrastructure, with the continual support of Sen. Byrd; improving our education system, using technology; and economic development,” Caperton said.
“Caperton advocated placing computers in all schools and creation of the School Building Authority to facilitate funding for modern schools,” according to the West Virginia Archives and History, part of the Division of Culture and History.
During his two terms as governor, Caperton also chaired the Southern Regional Education Board, Southern Governors’ Association’s Corporate Coalition to Improve Maternal and Child Health, Southern Growth Policies Board, National Governors’ Association Work Force Development Task Force, Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission and Democratic Governors’ Association.
Today Caperton laments the number of PhDs the area lost with the closing of Union Carbide and other chemical facilities.
“The facilities are beginning to be used again at the Tech Center,” Caperton said, referring to the West Virginia Regional Technology Park in South Charleston.
When the park opened in 1949, it was Union Carbide’s largest research center, employing about 3,000 scientists and engineers to develop thousands of patents for new chemicals.
In 2001, Union Carbide merged Dow Chemical Co., which allowed other tenants to move into the Tech Center. In 2010, Dow
Chemical donated the 258-acre park to the state. Today, the West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission operates the Tech Center.
Caperton’s family has also been part of the state’s coal industry. In 1907, brothers George Henry Caperton and W. Gaston Caperton opened Slab Fork Mine, just southwest of Beckley. The first mine in the Winding Gulf coalfields in Raleigh and Wyoming counties, Slab Fork operated union-organized mines until 1983.
Caperton welcomes recent events in Charleston.
“One of the great improvements has been the Clay Center. Its support of music and the arts has made Charleston a wonderful community. Few communities in the country have such a nice facility.
“The quality of people in the community is a great tribute to the leadership of this community,” Caperton said.
“The University of Charleston is also a big plus. And we have remarkable medical facilities,” Caperton said. “I’ve always thought Charleston has neat people. I missed them all the time when I was gone.”
Caperton also praised Danny Jones. “I think the Civic Center had become one of the real positive things locally under his administration.”
This is the 30th year the YMCA has run its Annual Support Campaign.
Last year, the YMCA provided more than $200,000 in community assistance for access to childcare, programs and facilities.
“Through the campaign, the recipient chooses a charity to assist and we are humbled Governor Caperton has chosen the YMCA to receive those funds,” the YMCA stated.
Caperton also sits on the board of directors at three major corporations: Prudential Financial, the world’s fifth-largest insurance company; Energy Corporation of America, an oil and gas company; and West Virginia-based United Bankshares. He is also a current member of the Board of Directors at BrickStreet.
For his public service, Caperton has received other awards recently.
n KIDS COUNT gave Caperton its “Making West Virginia A Great Place to be a Kid! Award” on May 7 at the Clay Center.
That award recognizes West Virginians who have worked to create public and private structures supporting the needs of children.
Margie Hale, executive director of KIDS COUNT, said Caperton’s 1989 Task Force on Children, Youth and Families laid the groundwork for her group to form as a nonprofit organization in 1990.
n The National Association of School Boards of Education honored Caperton as the 2012 Policy Maker of the Year.
Tickets to Wednesday’s luncheon are available for $175. All proceeds will go to the YMCA’s Community Action Program. Anyone interested in attending may call Leeann Doyle at 304-340-3527, ext. 1151.
Reach Paul J. Nyden