Activities Set For Fourth Of July

Happy Independence Day, readers! Area residents have a wealth of patriotic activities from which to choose on this holiday – from concerts, races and parades to picnics and pyrotechnical shows.

In Wheeling, festivities get under way at 2 p.m. today with the ever-popular Independence Day Extravaganza of music and flag waving at St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church, 1410 Chapline St. The concert, marking the event’s 25th anniversary, is open to the public. Free-will donations are accepted to benefit Faith in Action Caregivers.

Meanwhile, vendors are converging on Heritage Port this afternoon in preparation for the Wheeling Symphony’s free concert at 7:30 p.m., to be followed by fireworks at approximately 9:30 p.m. Lots of activities, including a concert at 7 p.m., are on tap at Oglebay Park today.

Eat, drink and be merry as we celebrate our nation’s 234th birthday!

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West Virginia and the nation lost a true patriot this past week with the death of U.S. Sen. Robert C. Byrd, D-W.Va. Much has been said and written about the senator’s legacy and his vital contributions to the Mountain State and to the other 49 states in our Union.

One of my most vivid memories of Byrd is of his skill at oration, as demonstrated during the opening ceremony for the Veterans Memorial Bridge in Weirton several years ago. Probably all of the spectators and participants in that event will never forget the senator’s recitation, from memory, of a long poem as he stood proudly on the deck of the shining new span.

But my favorite memory is of the senator honoring longtime News-Register Editor Harry Hamm during a joyous tribute dinner at Wheeling Park’s White Palace. When it came time to take family photographs of the occasion, there was Senator Byrd standing in the midst of Harry and Mary Hamm’s 12 children, posing – as we joked later – as the 13th Hamm child.

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By a sad coincidence, another proud West Virginian, newspaperman Bob Kelly, also died on Monday, June 28. Kelly’s untimely death, at age 60, saddened reporters and editors in newsrooms from Wheeling to Parkersburg and Charleston. Somehow, though, I think Bob would have been amused at arriving at the Pearly Gates on the same day as Senator Byrd, as they made the transition from Almost Heaven to Heaven.

Bob Kelly had served as editor of The Intelligencer for nearly a decade and as editor of the Parkersburg News before joining the Charleston Daily Mail as political editor. At the time of his death, he was managing editor of the Daily Mail.

A native of Sistersville and the son of a newspaper editor, Bob loved newspapers and he loved West Virginia. He took the business seriously, but he never took himself seriously. A gifted writer, he was self-effacing when it came to his own talents. He encouraged and challenged his staff, praising them and offering a kind word, but also suggesting ways to expand an idea or incorporate additional information and pointing out when they missed an important element of a story.

Even after he left Wheeling, it was not uncommon for Bob to call or send an e-mail to a staffer, giving praise, asking a question or inquiring about one’s well-being. My last contact with Bob came on June 1, when he commented warmly on a Facebook status update that I had posted regarding my best friend’s great recovery from a liver transplant. I’m saddened that I didn’t know about Bob’s final illness until it was too late.

Bob’s positive influence on his staffs of journalists is evidenced by the comments that colleagues offerered in print and online this past week. One of our former Wheeling colleagues summed it up best by saying that “Bob Kelly was the real deal.”

Bob had a wry sense of humor and a sly smile. Laidback and with the back of his shirt almost always untucked, he had the uncanny characteristic of being well-groomed and looking disheveled at the same time.

During his time at The Intelligencer, Bob was visited often by an ex-convict who had the soul of a poet; the man would stop by to chat and to drop off eloquent letters to the editor. Frequently, the man was accompanied by a scruffy little dog. On one such occasion, when the ex-con and his mutt were visiting, a loud commotion of barking erupted from Bob’s office, and everyone in the newsroom wondered what had been done or said to set that little canine off. It turned out that Bob had simply told the man, “Red, I think you ought to give that dog a bath.”

I’ll never forget the Valentine’s Day when Bob and his wife, Kathy, became parents to their beloved daughter, Abigail. The first-time father was overjoyed by the birth of his little girl. His visage always revealed tenderness and pride when he spoke of Abigail or brought her to the office for a visit. Bob’s moving Daily Mail column about taking Abigail to college (at her parents’ alma mater, West Virginia University) a couple of years ago was priceless.

Yes, Bob Kelly was indeed “the real deal,” and he will be missed.

Linda Comins can be reached via e-mail at: