Chris Cline

Chris Cline photographed for Forbes in June 2017 by Jamel Toppin. Photograph provided by Joe Carey.

Just like his coal, Chris Cline was a natural resource for the state of West Virginia.

Entrepreneur. Philanthropist. Visionary. Billionaire. Father. Son. Friend. Companion.

Cline filled all those roles and so many more.

That’s why the Beckley native’s death in a helicopter crash on the Fourth of July was so devastating on every imaginable level.

“He was a great guy,” said Bobby Pruett, iconic former Marshall University football coach. “We played golf together. He was a very generous guy. He took care of his kids. He was just a super, super, super person.

“He loved the state of West Virginia. He loved Marshall University. He was a giving and caring guy.”

Cline was a financial benefactor for both Marshall and West Virginia University. He donated $8.5 million to build Marshall’s Chris Cline Complex, which houses an indoor football practice field, an indoor track, hall of fame and sports medicine institute.

Yet, Cline, who attended Marshall, also donated to WVU athletic projects.

His benevolence didn’t stop at the collegiate level, either.

“He did the soccer fields in Beckley,” said Pruett, a Beckley native. “He loved Beckley. He named [the complex] after his daddy [Paul] and artificially turfed both of them. He was just a caring guy. He supported Elsie’s golf tournament [Pruett’s wife, Elsie]. For five years, he gave $10,000 a sponsor.

“He wanted to help. He wanted to give back to the state. He was just a good guy ... just a humble guy.”

Cline might have been the most down-to-earth billionaire anyone could encounter. Right, Mike Hamrick?

“When I talked to him about naming the complex after him,” said MU’s athletic director, “he initially didn’t want to do it. He said, ‘No, I don’t want my name on anything.’ That’s the kind of guy he was. He just wanted to give the money and help.

“We insisted, though. We said, ‘No, Chris, we don’t care what you say. We’re going to put your name on the complex.’ He was very proud of that building. Every time he would come back for a football game or be in town, he would stop. If he had people with him, we would give them a tour.

“I remember one time he brought Elin with him [Cline’s girlfriend at the time, Elin Nordegren, who also was pro golfer Tiger Woods’ ex-wife]. He wanted her to see the complex.

“He was proud of that building. He didn’t want any credit for it, but he obviously was the big benefactor for it.”

Perhaps, the only thing Cline did insist on was statuary at the complex consisting of three huge buffaloes.

“He was adamant about the buffaloes out front,” said Hamrick. “Those buffaloes were over $1 million. He said, ‘I don’t care what it costs. I love the Thundering Herd and I love the buffaloes. If my name is going to be on it, then I want three of the largest buffaloes around.’ Those buffaloes cost $1.2 million. And he said, ‘I’ll pay for them.’

“There’s no question he was a natural resource. Absolutely. He is going to be sorely missed in this state.”

Pruett couldn’t agree more.

“Chris was so unassuming,” he said. “He will be missed.”

Then, Pruett paused as he fought back his emotions.

“I can’t quit thinking about him,” he said. “Just what a good guy he was and what a friend. He certainly was a natural resource for our state.”

Chris Cline was one of a kind.

West Virginia weeps.