Obituary of Waitman T. Willey

Morgantown Daily New Dominion
May 2, 1900


Passes Peacefully Away at His Home on Chancery Hill.

Brief Sketch of the Life of Morgantown's Most Distinguished Citizen A Remarkable Man Whose Impress Will Long be Seen in the World Close of a Long and Useful Career.

Hon. Waitman T. Willey Died at his home in this place on Wednesday morning May 2nd, 1900, aged 88 years, 6 month and 13 days.

The announcement of his death was received everywhere with universal regret as he was revered and loved by all without regard to party or creed. He had been feeble for many months hence the announcement that he had passed away was not unexpected though every one went about with bowed heads when they heard of it.

For many years Senator Willey has been the most distinguished citizen of Morgantown and a leader in his state. He had been the latter from a young man. Nothing too good can be said of his character or his blameless life.

A few years ago Governor Atkinson writing of him published the following sketch which is worthy of re-production.

Honor and truth are not mere idle abstractions. They are the living and practical realities upon which men and women found their best reliance for personal happiness, and that constitute the real bulwarks of a Nation's welfare and safety, without which written constitutions are mockeries and laws mere pitfalls. In the life of the modest, manly man, whose personal history I am now briefly writing, these qualities were constantly exemplified and from our contemplation of them and their exercise we cannot do otherwise than pay them due respect, and at the same time call for their recognition and practice in the intercourse of men and women everywhere.

A citizen of the State is a citizen of the United States. Like single drops of water in the mighty stream of population every one may freely run and mingle in the great flow of human life which pours in unbroken flood throughout the Union., In the makeup of a model citizen, to honor and truthfulness should be added culture and refinement. Indeed, it may be truly said that the fate of a nation depends largely upon the education of its citizens. The voyage of life begins with enthusiasm. Its bark floats by banks covered with flowers, arched by the calm, blue sky, and fanned by the balmy breath of spring that warms everything into beautiful activity. But as the voyage hastens shadows gather and warn one of coming dangers. Hence the necessity of training in early life which prepares men to become true citizens and be able to preserve the liberties in a Republic like ours that may be committed to their charge. For a full half century the subject of this sketch stood forth in Western Virginia not only as a leader of men but in all respects, both in public and in home life, a cultured, honorable, model citizen. It can rarely be said of any one that everybody who knows him has confidence in and respect for him, but of Waitman T. Willey, of Monongalia, all this and more can be truthfully written.

Mr. Willey was born on Buffalo creek, Monongalia county (now Marion county), October 18, 1811. He was reared on a farm until he reached his seventeenth year, when he entered Madison College (now Allegheny College), Pennsylvania, from which he graduated in June, 1831. Commenced the study of law at Wellsburg, Va., under the distinguished Phillip Doddridge, in the spring of 1832, and was admitted to the bar in September, 1833. He immediately settled at Morgantown, in his native county, where he has ever since resided. In 1834 he married Miss Elizabeth Ray daughter of Patrick Ray, of Wheeling, with whom he lived in happy wedlock until her death, which occurred a few years ago; was an elector on the Harrison and Tyler ticket in 1840; was clerk of both county and circuit courts of law and chancery in Monongalia county from 1841 to 1852; was a member of the Constitutional Convention of Virginia in 1850-1851; was the Whig candidate from his district for Congress in 1852, was the Whig candidate for Lieutenant Governor of Virginia in 1859. In 1860 he was a delegate to the Convention that nominated Bell and Everett for President and Vice-President; was a member of the Convention of 1861 and voted against the ordinance of secession; was elected by the Legislature of what was called the "Restored Government of Virginia at Wheeling"to a seat in the Senate of the United States to take the place of James M. Mason, who seceded with the mother State; was a member of the Constitutional Convention of Wheeling which framed the first constitution of West Virginia, but being at the same time a United States Senator he did not take an active part in the proceedings of the Convention; was a member of the second Constitutional Convention at Charleston in 1872, that framed the present constitution of the state; was elected one of the first United States Senators from West Virginia in 1863, and drew the short term of two years. At the expiration of the term he was re-elected to the same position for the full term of six years, which expired March 4, 1871.

For more than 60 years Senator Willey has been a conspicuous member of the M. E. Church. In 1872 he was elected the first lay-delegate from the West Virginia Conference to the General Conference of that denomination, but owing to pressure of business declined to serve. In 1880 he was again elected to that responsible position and took an active part in the proceedings of the General Conference; was a delegate at large to the National Republican Convention at Cincinnati in 1876. In November, 1882, he was appointed clerk o f the county court of Monongalia county to fill a vacancy occasioned by the death of the then incumbent. In October 1884, he was elected by the people to said office for the term of six years, which office he filled efficiently filling.

Madison College, from which Mr. Willey graduated, was merged into Allegheny College, Meadville, Pa., and the latter conferred upon him the degree of Master of Arts. Some years later the honorary degree of Master of Arts was conferred upon him by Augusta College. While Mr. Willey was a Senator in Congress, Allegheny College conferred upon him the honorary degree of Doctor of Laws. A few years ago the West Virginia University conferred upon him the same degree.

It is impossible in the limited space at my command to more than allude to the life work of such a man as ex-Senator Willey. For a quarter of a century before the late civil war, he and the late George W. Summers, of Kanawha county, were universally regarded as the Whig wheel-horses of Western Virginia. In a majority of the counties that now compose West Virginia, Mr. Willey, during his entire public career, was the acknowledged champion. He was a man of great industry. But few public men delivered a greater number of addresses and lectures on subjects of general interest. Besides he wrote much for newspapers and periodicals and no religious subjects.

He was for a half century almost constantly "on the go." He was a great orator. The writer has heard him in his prime when the sweep of his power was utterly irresistible. Rising to the magnitude of his subject, the electric current could almost be seen to scintillate from the ends of his long, bony fingers, as his high genius illumined his kindling eyes. His great oratorical triumphs on the platform, in the halls of Congress, and at the bar are scattered over a period of more than fifty years, and alone would furnish material for a large and interesting volume. At his home in Morgantown, the seat of the West Virginia University, and now nearly eighty years old, he is kindly spoken of as "the old-man-eloquent," and all classes admire him with that degree of esteem that reaches absolute reverence.

But better than a reputation for oratory, statesmanship and legal attainments is a character for honesty, sobriety and sterling integrity. Mr. Willey's reputation for probity in public and private life is as spotless as a maiden's and as unsullied as a ray of light. Through his church relations his name has become familiar to thousands of the homes of the land as the synonym for purity and exalted Christian character. His memory will be perpetuated signally and with lasting certainty through the influence of a lofty example, in which are exhibited all the noble qualities that enter into the composition of a character which combines a just pride without ostentation, candor without dissimulation, humility without affectation, learning without vanity, generosity without selfishness, truth without fear. All of these elements are the environments of Mr. Willey's daily existence and are the leading lessons of his blameless life.

Another writer in the Biographical Cyclopedia of Monongalia county has a longer reference to Senator Willey's life and work. We add a short extract from it.

It is impossible in the limits assigned to this sketch to give even a synopsis of all of Mr. Willey's efforts and works in the various spheres which he has filled. Those heretofore given have been included with a view to indicate his position on current events and to illustrate them, rather than as specimens of his style. He was a frequent contributor to public journals and reviews, both religious and political, and wielded always a graceful and able pen. Of Mr. Willey's oratorical powers it can be said it can be said they are of no ordinary character. They are best shown, perhaps, in some of his unstudied bursts of eloquence in advocacy at the bar. On such occasions, the sweep of his power seems utterly irresistible as the electric current can almost be seen to scintillate from the tip of his long, bony finger, and his high genius illumes his kindling eye. His triumphs at the bar are scattered over a period of a half-century, and would alone furnish material for an interesting volume. His reasoning powers are distinguished more for breadth of analysis than subtlety or acuteness; hence, he is not so well known in the ranks of the special pleaders. He understands more of the philosophy of the law than the mere forms by which it is too often made successful in its practice by men of less culture and intellect. As a statesman his record, so imperfectly sketched here, is before his countrymen. While in the Senate of the United States he did not fill so large a place in the public eye, or occupy so much space in the public prints as many others, yet it is believed that his fame will be in comparison like the silent, colorless rock at the foot of the nodding, waving monarch of the forest, enduring when the winds shall have ceased to rustle through its branches and its trunk will have returned to its native mould. In the sphere of citizenship, Mr. Willey has ever been held in high esteem by his fellow-men. He has participated in all the public enterprises in which the community has engaged, and has enjoyed the confidence of all for his discretion and sterling integrity. His reputation for probity in public and private life is as unsullied as the new fallen snow. Through his church relationship his name has become familiar to thousands of the homes of the land as the synonym for purity and exalted Christian character. His friendships are firm and unselfish. But in no manner will his memory be perpetuated in the future more signally or with more lasting certainty, than through the influence of a lofty example, exhibiting all the noble qualities that enter into the composition of a character which combines a just pride without ostentation, candor without dissimulation, humility without affectation, learning without vanity, generosity without selfishness, and truth without fear. All of these elements are the environments of his daily existence and

"Bespeak the good man who acts out the whole The whole of all he knows of high and true." Much, and in fact nearly all, of Senator Willey's local career is passed over for want of space, but the history and progress of Morgantown for fifty years yes, sixty years has been his history as a citizen. One of the foremost lawyers of his day, he has been all this time quietly yet busily engaged in civil cases of more than ordinary importance. A member of the Bar of Monongalia says of him: "As a casuist, I know of no lawyer in the State who is his equal. No matter how complex, conflicting and paradoxical a case might be, he would eventually fathom its depths, and do exact justice in his conclusions." Senator Willey married Elizabeth E. Ray in the year 1834. To this union were born the following children: Mary E., who intermarried with M. L. Casselberry, M. D., and who deceased in September, 1862; Sarah B., who intermarried with J. M. Hagans, deceased; Wm. P. Willey, now Law Professor in the West Virginia University, married; Julia E., intermarried with ex-State Senator W. M. McGrew, living; Thos. R. Willey, now in the employ of the Government at Washington, in the Pension Office, married; Louisa A., living with her father on Chancery Hill, unmarried; Jno. B. Willey, living with his father at the old homestead, unmarried. Senator Willey resides on "Chancery Hill," in the home built by him in 1839. It is not a high dwelling, but broad and deep, with spacious halls and rooms, and looks as substantial to- day as ever. If the Senator had not been conspicuous in public life, his continued residence on Chancery Hill would entitle him to local celebrity at least. For fifty years he has traversed the long, steep hill between his home and Morgantown's business centre, nearly a mile, and in this time has found both health and safety in his summit abode, and four times a day makes the journey. He is to be found in the handsome new courthouse at half-past seven to eight o'clock, and as late as five in the afternoon. At his home he is to be seen surrounded with the brightness and newness of a man in middle life. Around him and in the library are the latest publications on religion, science, art and political economy, and to these he is as devoted as ever. In truth, he is a noble example of a Christian statesman whom West Virginians will always be glad to honor.

Funeral Friday Morning

The funeral will take place on Friday morning at ten o'clock from his late residence on Chancery Hill. It will be conducted by Rev. S. V. Leech and will be attended by an immense throng of people. The Bar of this county will meet at nine o'clock on Thursday morning to pass the proper resolutions of respect for the departed leader.