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Community remembers 'keeper of the mountains' Larry Gibson (with video)

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- As people gathered Sunday afternoon to remember mountaintop-removal mining opponent Larry Gibson, there were repeated calls to continue his life's work.

"Larry Gibson will live forever in our hearts," former Congressman and Secretary of State Ken Hechler told the crowd that gathered in the Charleston Municipal Auditorium. "Larry expected us to stand up for the same principles he fought for. We promise you, Larry, we will never give up -- never, never give up."

Gibson died last month of a heart attack on Kayford Mountain, his birthplace and the final resting place of more than 300 of his ancestors. Since mining on the mountain began in 1986, Gibson had been working to preserve his home and the homes of others there.

Sunday afternoon's service, called "Celebration of Larry Gibson: the life and legacy of the Keeper of the Mountains," featured music, speeches and video clips of Gibson.

A candlelight vigil followed the memorial, which was slated to last four hours and feature around 40 speakers and musicians. Speakers included Gibson's wife, Carol, daughter Victoria, and sons Larry Jr. and Cameron.

When Hechler, 98, met Gibson 25 years ago, the two had an immediate connection, Hechler said.

"We didn't call it anti-mountain removal, we just could feel in our hearts we were both fighting for truth and justice," he said.

Gibson's attorney Bill DePaulo said while Gibson's death is a sad occasion, it's not a tragedy.

"It's a not a tragedy to die where you want to be, doing what you want to do with the people that love you and surrounded by the people you love," DePaulo said during the man's eulogy.

When he was a baby, a rat bit Gibson as he was in his crib, DePaulo said. His family later lived for a while under a tree and the man would later live in less-than-genteel Youngstown, Ohio, DePaulo said.

"The coal industry had never encountered anyone as ready for war was Larry Gibson," DePaulo said.

Gibson left the job of defending his birthplace to others, DePaulo said.

"We all have to ask that question," he said. "Will we become like Larry, a keeper?"

Gibson was influential in making mountaintop removal mining a priority issue for the Sierra Club, said Mary Anne Hitt, director of the agency's Beyond Coal Campaign. Gibson brought more people into the movement against mountaintop removal than anyone Hitt knew, she said.

Hitt said she always expected Gibson to be around when "the battle" against strip mining was won. Gibson will be there in spirit when that battle is won, she said.

"I can think of no greater tribute to Larry Gibson, so I will see you all at the victory party," Hitt said.

Gibson was buried on Kayford Mountain.

The coal industry can't take him off the mountain now, Larry Gibson Jr. said. The younger Gibson encouraged people to continue the fight against strip mining.

"Keep fighting," Gibson said. "Don't lay down. Don't sit down and don't get pushed around."

Reach Lori Kersey at lori.kersey@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1240.


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