CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Note to West Virginia legislators: You thought you'd seen the last of Darrell Holmes? Think again.
Holmes retired Jan. 9 after 22 years as Senate clerk. Before that, he served eight years in the Senate. Before that, he served eight years in the House of Delegates.
The casual, aw-shucks demeanor reflects his farm boy upbringing at Wolf Pen near Sissonville. He served his country in Okinawa and made his living as a millwright at Union Carbide.
But the heart of his life was the West Virginia Legislature.
After 38 years under the dome, he can't just quit cold turkey. The 78-year-old Capitol fixture will find a way to keep rubbing elbows with lawmakers, even if it's just hanging out in those marble halls to schmooze.
"I grew up on Wolf Pen out toward Sissonville. My dad was in the coal and dairy business. He had about 15 coal miners working for him. Coal was about $4.50 a ton then. Now it's about $75 a ton.
"My parents raised 10 children, eight girls and 2 boys. You can imagine what I went through. He put all those kids through college. I went to college on the G.I. Bill, so I'm the only one who didn't cost him a penny.
"I thought I wanted to be like my son, Eric, a lawyer, but I never did make it. I graduated from Sissonville in 1953, went into the service station business then went in the Air Force in '55.
"In high school, I played guard on the football team. I had a scholarship at Glenville State. Going from Kanawha County to Glenville State then took every bit of 12 hours. The coach took me up there and showed me where I was going to stay. He said I would be there a month before I could leave. I said I wasn't going. I didn't want to be away from home that long.
"I took my friend, Boogie Thaxton, to Beckley to join the Air Force. The lady said, 'Sign here since you transported him here.' When I got ready to leave, she said, 'You can't leave. You just joined the service. You signed your name right there.'
"I spent three years on Okinawa. I was a national security guard. They had 18 atomic bombs there in this security place. We had to guard those. They had rockets right here, bombs right there. Within five minutes, they could load those bombs on the rockets and shoot them off. This was between Korea and Vietnam.
"I didn't have any money. I realized I could have a little money from the service and go to college on the G.I. Bill. I got 18 hours at West Virginia State, then transferred to Morris Harvey for a degree in business administration.
"State was $125 a semester. When I transferred to Morris Harvey, I was filling out this stuff, and the woman asked me how much I got from the G.I. Bill. I said I got $250 a semester. So they charged me $250.
"I started working at Union Carbide as a millwright. I had a machine shop myself. My dad taught me. I grew up with it.
"I was elected to the House of Delegates in '74, put in eight years there and was elected to the State Senate in '82.
"My dad was always involved in politics. He and my uncle always worked at the polls. I worked at the polls when I was 16. I would haul voters to the polls.
"The thing that really surprised me about the Legislature was the influence the lobbyists would have on the delegates and senators. That's nothing compared to Washington, D.C. I spent some time there when Senator Byrd was majority leader. That was 15 years ago. They had receptions for those senators every night.
"If somebody was interested in something, they would be your friend. If you vote against them, they were no longer your friend. They'd talk to me, and I'd listen, but I always voted what I thought was the right thing to do.