See the full list of West Virginians of the Year here.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- For two years, he worked tirelessly promoting legislation for what then was a novel idea -- promoting healthy lifestyles by requiring chain restaurants to post calorie counts for their menu items.
After two sessions, and numerous setbacks and negotiations, the bill seemed ready to pass in 2009. Then, one infamous morning late in the session, the bill was not only killed but openly mocked by members of the House Government Organization Committee, who gorged themselves on high-calorie breakfast biscuits and doughnuts as they oversaw the bill's demise.
In a Legislature full of large egos and thin skins, most legislators would have been furious to lose a bill in such a manner -- but not Sen. Dan Foster, D-Kanawha. Foster was stoic, saying he believed news coverage of the legislation had served a purpose in raising the public's awareness about counting calories when they eat out.
Indeed, as health-care lobbyist Perry Bryant noted, within a year the restaurant industry relented and allowed calorie counts to be included as part of the federal Affordable Care Act, concluding it would be better to have one national standard to follow rather than 50 different state requirements.
"[Foster] contributed to the momentum," Bryant said of the publicity regarding Foster's calorie-posting bill. The new federal regulation goes into effect next year.
"His presence in the Legislature has been a breath of fresh air. He would take positions on a lot of issues that most people would shy away from," Bryant noted. "He never played it safe."
Whether taking on the pharmaceutical industry over payola to physicians to prescribe certain brand-name drugs, the tobacco industry in order to raise cigarette taxes or retail drug store chains to restrict sales of pseudoephedrine -- a key ingredient in making methamphetamine -- or as one of a few legislators to vocally support the ACA, friends and colleagues note that Foster always brought a brilliant analytical mind and a bulldog tenacity to the fight.
While Foster's decade of legislative service is coming to a close -- he did not run for re-election this year -- all expect him to continue to make his presence felt at the Capitol, as well as his continuing efforts to improve the quality of life in the Kanawha Valley through service on numerous boards and commissions, including West Virginians for Affordable Health Care and the West Virginia Symphony.
For his tireless commitment to improving the health and well being of the state and the Kanawha Valley, the Sunday Gazette-Mail has chosen Dr. Dan Foster as the 2012 West Virginian of the Year.
Soft-spoken, gentle and unassuming -- never self-aggrandizing -- Foster is more than just a physician or politician. He's a Renaissance man who plays classical piano, collects art and leads cultural efforts in the Kanawha Valley
Foster, 64, was relatively a latecomer to politics, first running for the Legislature in 2002 after more than 20 years as a general and vascular surgeon in Charleston.
He was one of a number of health-care providers to run for the Legislature that year, at the height of the state's discussions over medical-malpractice insurance costs.
While most of the physician/candidates pushed for "tort reform" to cap malpractice settlements and legal fees, Foster saw the issue as multi-faceted, also involving concessions from the insurance industry and the physician community.
Foster came to Charleston in 1979, having grown up in Oak Ridge, Tenn., where his father worked with the Manhattan Project and the national nuclear laboratory. After graduating from Harvard University and the Stanford University School of Medicine, Foster did his surgical residency at the Tulane University medical center, where he met and married his wife, Kathy. They have three sons.
After serving a term in the West Virginia House of Delegates, Foster was elected to the Senate in 2004 and 2008, where he established himself as a leader on health-care issues.
"Absolutely, without a doubt, he's the most highly motivated legislator I ever met -- ever," said House Health and Human Resources Chairman Don Perdue, D-Wayne. "As they say in athletics, Dan has a high motor. He doesn't go for the stop, he goes for the sack."
Perdue recalled teaming up with Foster to get a bill, which required prescription drug sellers to say how much they spent marketing their drugs to doctors, through the Senate in 2004.
Needing to sway the vote of one prominent senator, Perdue recalled, "We literally sat outside his door until midnight. He could not leave his office without talking to us."
When Foster was committed to an issue, that bulldog tenacity was typical, Perdue said. "Once he sunk his teeth into you, he would not let you go."
Perdue noted that while Foster is quiet, his words demand attention.