On January 14, 1957, Cecil Underwood became West Virginia’s youngest governor. The 34-year-old Tyler County native also became the state’s first Republican governor in 24 years.
Underwood pledged to hire qualified personnel, keep taxes low, reform state purchasing, improve roads and education, and attract new industry. A Democratic-controlled legislature blocked most of his agenda. Most notably, it slashed 90 percent from Underwood’s proposed $500 million road program. However, he was able to pass measures to provide emergency benefits to unemployed miners and to create a new economic development agency.
The state constitution barred Underwood from running for a second term. Instead, he ran for U.S. Senate in 1960 and lost to incumbent Jennings Randolph. He fell short in his attempts to regain the governorship in 1964, ’68, and ’76. During this time, he held executive positions with coal and chemical companies and served as Bethany College’s president. After years out of the political spotlight, he launched a comeback in 1996. He defeated Charlotte Pritt for governor and took office at age 75. This time, he became West Virginia’s oldest governor.
Cecil Underwood died in 2008 at age 86.