Jay Documentary Airs Monday, Co-Producer Shares Blog # 2
Editor's Note: Jay: A Rockefeller's Journey airs on West Virginia Public Television Monday, June 22 at 9pm.
It wasn't until September 2013 after months of contacting historians, archivists, staffers and other folks associated with Jay Rockefeller that fellow producer Suzanne Higgins and I were ready to start conducting the vital on-camera interviews.
September 4, 2013, with audio specialist Chuck Frostick, Suzanne and I converged upon Charleston's Clay Center for the Arts and Sciences during a conference concerning West Virginia's economic future.
Senator Rockefeller was scheduled to discuss the importance of the STEM fields, science, technology, engineering and mathematics, but was unable to attend, due to pressing matters at the nation's capitol.
While there, we conducted on-camera interviews with conference participants, who offered invaluable insights into Jay Rockefeller's character and impact upon West Virginia and its people.
Tom Heywood, Board President of the Discover the Real West Virginia Foundation, said Rockefeller worked hard to earn a place in the family that is the people of West Virginia, whether living and working as a VISTA volunteer in the poverty-stricken community of Emmons and later presiding as president of West Virginia Wesleyan College.
"He’s clearly established himself as an incredibly generous and productive member and leader of our family", noted Heywood. "And I think that’s why it’s all worked so well, not because he’s a Rockefeller. That was a challenge that he had to overcome, being a Rockefeller. It didn’t score him any points, right? That was more in the handicap column. The fact that he went to an Ivy League school did not win any hearts and minds. It was the fact of who he was, the life he lived, in Emmons, at Wesleyan, as Secretary of State, as Governor, and as our senator with a life’s work and a life’s commitment to the people of the state. That spoke for itself and that’s how he became 'Jay'."
Lloyd Jackson II, a board member of the Discover the Real West Virginia Foundation and one of Rockefeller's former political campaigners, recalled a situation involving one of his children, while visiting Senator Rockefeller's farm in Pocahontas County.
"One of my boys got into a yellow jacket’s nest and just about got eaten alive by these yellow jackets. You would have thought, to Senator Rockefeller, that this was the worst medical condition that anyone had ever had and he treated my son just like a doctor would treat a patient who had had a heart attack or something of that nature", Jackson remembered. "But you could just see that passion in him that day that he had for my child and I’ve always appreciated that."
AFL-CIO President Kenny Purdue said that Rockefeller is driven by passion. "He has a heart of a West Virginian that is committed to takin' care of people and I just have fallin' in love with that piece of him. He's just so genuine and he really wants to help people....I'm just glad that he came to West Virginia in the '60s. I'm glad he did what he did and I'm glad that we were able to keep him for as long as we have."
The next day, September 5, 2013, Frosty, Suzanne and I traveled to the Bluefield Area Arts Center, in Mercer County, where Senator Rockefeller hosted an intense and heart wrenching discussion concerning Black Lung disease.
“We thought, at one time, we had Black Lung on its heels,” Rockefeller said. “We were wrong. The question before us today is simple: What are we going to do about it? What are we going to do to prevent the disease and what are we going to do to help those who are already suffering? That’s why I’ve asked this group of people to join me today. I need their help, their input and their ideas.”
September 6, 2013, our crew was on hand for a heartfelt discussion at Charleston's Schoenbaum Center, as Senator Rockefeller sought ways to improve CHIP, the Children’s Health Insurance Program.
"Quite simply, fully funding CHIP is a moral imperative,” Rockefeller said. “This program is something I deeply, truly believe in, and I am as deeply proud of CHIP as anything I’ve done in my nearly 50 years in public service. That’s why I will never stop fighting to make sure children across West Virginia get the care they rightfully need and deserve.”
September 9, 2013, filmmaker Chip Hitchcock, a seasoned veteran who can bring out the best in the way an interview looks and feels, joined Frosty, Suzanne and I at West Virginia Wesleyan College, nearly 40 years after Rockefeller's tenure as President.
Professor of History Robert Rupp provided us with much needed insight and perspective concerning Rockefeller, his family and his relationship with the people of West Virginia.
"We’re looking at someone from one of the most famous and maybe infamous families in American history, one of the wealthiest families, one who has been raised in an environment that West Virginia is not even on the fringe", says Rupp. "And yet he will end up coming to West Virginia, he will end up staying in West Virginia, he will end up working for West Virginia, in a career that will span almost 50 years. That’s an amazing story. It’s an amazing legacy."
Wesleyan alumnus Dauna Hawkins shared memories of Jay and his wife, Sharon, when they were neighbors in the small college town of Buchannon. Hawkins also described how, Jay, as a guest speaker in the 1960s, inspired her to remain in West Virginia in order to make a positive difference in the Mountain State.
"I was an upperclassman", she recalled. "At that point, I believe he was in the House of Delegates. He had come to let us know that we, the students, were the wealth of West Virginia and the future of West Virginia and really appealed to us to stay in the state. Most of my friends who had graduated and who were graduating were not looking at careers in West Virginia, because the money was outside the state; it was not in West Virginia. He really made a very down to earth appeal to us to stay. My husband and I at the time were trying to decide where we were going to go once we all graduated. We were thinking about the Peace Corps at the time. I knew Jay had been a VISTA worker and just whatever he had said really resonated with me and we stayed and it changed my whole life."
September 13, 2013, Frosty and I returned to West Virginia Wesleyan to conduct additional interviews.
"With Jay and his connections with Japan", recalled William Mallory, Professor of English and Humanities Program Coordinator, "we were able to bring in some outstanding speakers that we never could have afforded. Former Ambassador to Japan Edwin Reischauer was here to give a major speech in the chapel for us one time. And later on we had a scholar who was from Columbia University, Donald King, who wrote many, many books about Japan."
Mallory said President Rockefeller, through his New York connections to the arts, "was able to bring a curator from the Museum of Modern Art down to talk about modern art for us. So we had a heyday at that point."
Sports announcer and Vice-President of Advancement Bob Skinner recalled how the atmosphere changed after Rockefeller assumed office in 1973.
"When Jay came, he brought such a vibrant youth to the presidency that I think all of us were like, 'Wow, the president’s out running around on campus', 'You can see the president on the sidewalk', 'I just had coffee with the president.' Those were the kind of things that people would say. When Jay was here, I think it’s fair to say, Jay was as popular a president with students as any president I’ve seen and I’ve been here now 40 years. "
Psychology Department Chair Richard Calef attributed the success of Wesleyan's Bobcats on the basketball court and growth of community pride to the college's young president.
"Jay had a dream", he says. "He felt that it could help the college if we improved the facilities, recruited better student athletes, had a strong program, got the students involved where not only would they come to the games but they would be so enthusiastic that they would make a connection with the team, with Wesleyan, feel proud of the team and Wesleyan."
I think that'll be his legacy, his integrity and his personality and his commitment to West Virginia.
Rockefeller led the college’s effort to build a multi-purpose recreational center, personally contributing $250,000 to the construction of what became known as the John D. Rockefeller IV Physical Education Center.
While at Wesleyan, Frosty and I recorded audio and video in an attempt to capture the relaxed atmosphere of the campus and its surroundings. I especially enjoy such outings, taking time to take in the life and beauty of a place.
September 17, 2013, Frosty and I again joined lighting specialist Chip Hitchcock, this time in Morgantown, for an interview with West Virginia Small Business Person of the Year Diane Lewis, founder and CEO of Action Facilities Management. Her non-profit Members of Diversity helps youth develop job skills.
Our somewhat relaxed and democratic approach to interviewing, with each of our crew free to jump in with questions along the way, seemed a perfect fit for Lewis. I believe it safe to say that a good time was had by all.
September 30, 2013, Frosty and I interviewed Tom Potter, former member of the West Virginia Legislature and chair of the Republican State Executive Committee. I'd mentioned to Frosty that we needed to interview someone who could address Jay Rockefeller's political career from a Republican perspective.
Potter applauded Rockefeller for his sincerity and integrity: "I think that he views government as a very viable problem solver and necessary in the lives of people to a degree that most conservatives would disagree. And I think that'll be his legacy, his integrity and his personality and his commitment to West Virginia; he could have walked away many times. In fact, we used to laugh; why would he want to be governor when he could be a playboy living on some fancy island, having a great time someplace, but we all knew better."
Chuck Frostick, who studied political science at Ohio Wesleyan College, suggested Tom Potter. He fit the bill perfectly and gave us so much more than we had hoped. I love it when everything comes together so well. We shot the interview at the offices of Jackson-Kelly Attorneys at Law, whose staff graciously accommodated us.