We’ve Lost A Genuine Maverick
Many people like to categorize others neatly. We class them as good or bad, brilliant or crazy, personable or anti-social, a friend or someone to avoid, etc.
Good luck fitting H. John Rogers into a neat pigeonhole. He was all of the above and more.
For two weeks now, I’ve struggled with his death on Feb. 1 — regarding what to write about him. I liked him well enough that I didn’t want to mention some of the things he did in his life, but that would have been dishonest. With Herb (or H. John as some called him), you had to take the good with the bad.
There was plenty of the latter. Herb, who lived in New Martinsville, lost his law license in 2013 because, in 2009, he filed a “mental hygiene” complaint against a businessman that resulted in the fellow being hauled off to a psychiatric facility, from which he was released quickly.
During his younger days, he organized a foot race in his hometown of Reader. It ended when two participants died, probably of heat stroke.
Once, during one of many campaigns for public office — he never won — Herb punched a reporter.
He was not a person to get on the wrong side of, as we used to say. I did, at least once. Herb had organized another distance run, with most of the course beside W.Va. 2. I wrote that the annual event ought to be called off because of the danger a runner would be struck by a car.
Herb informed me he didn’t need anyone in a three-piece suit (his words) telling him how to stage a race. Then he canceled the event. As he told me years later, he’d already killed two people in a race and didn’t want to kill any more.
At one point while I was working at the Wetzel Chronicle in New Martinsville, Herb brought a very large, very muscular college football player into the office. He just wanted me to meet his friend, he said. “Shake hands,” he suggested. It was all I could manage to keep from grimacing as his friend gripped my hand.
It has to be said: Some people were afraid of Herb. I never was, simply because I sensed there was a line he’d never cross — but he’d dance very close to it.
“Colorful” doesn’t begin to describe him. During one period in which he was filing lawsuits simply to annoy people he didn’t like, Herb found a friend to sign his name to the paperwork. It was nice to have lawsuits filed by W.V. Wildman, he explained.
At his death, he was running for president, and had paid to run an advertisement in his local paper, informing others in the race that he would be carrying a “sheathed G.I. surplus machete.” He pointed out this was his 2nd Amendment right.
Knowing he needed some publicity, Herb informed some in the press that he planned to block the railroad tracks in New Martinsville. That would require his arrest by federal authorities, he said. Instead, he was hauled off for a mental evaluation of his own.
His antics — usually but not always harmless, if alarming — were what many people knew about Herb.
There was more to him. He devoted considerable effort to religious studies and earned two divinity degrees. He traveled weekly to a prison in Pennsylvania to counsel the inmates. He helped the homeless with food, clothing and money.
As well as I can tell, Herb — during his later years, at least — tried to live a Christian life.
It says something about him that his stunts were often very public — but most people never heard about the good deeds he did.
I could tell you many other stories about Herb, and I didn’t know him well. What I do know is that he was brilliant and, well, wacky at times. He did some very bad things, and some very good things.
But don’t we all fit into that particular category?
The difference with Herb was that in many ways, he did things with more panache.
I suspect some people won’t miss him at all. I will, in part because at a time when political correctness is running amok, he remained a genuine maverick. I’ve never known anyone like him. I don’t think I ever will.
Myer can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.