Charleston Daily Mail
January 16, 1961
By Bob Mellace
Daily Mail Political Editor
William Wallace Barron raised his hand an instant after last midnight and became West Virginia’s 26th governor.
Then he raised the state’s taxes by a million dollars a month.
The entire operation took only minutes in the big Board of Public Works room, crowded to the walls with members of the Barron family, political associates, uniformed state troopers and newsmen.
A few yards away, in the chief executive’s office, outgoing Gov. Cecil H. Underwood worked in his shirtsleeves with his staff, removing his personal possessions and a pair of Civil War boots nobody could identify.
Underwood sent them to the state museum in the Capitol basement.
Barron, 49-year-old son of a Presbyterian minister, arranged the midnight oath-taking so he could sign into law an increase in the consumers sales tax, voted last Friday by the 55th Legislature.
Underwood declined to sign it, saying he did not understand its language.
Barron estimates the tax will bring in a million dollars a month and that, between now and next Aug. 31 when it is supposed to come off, he can put 5,000 men to work on public works.
Actually, the bill Barron signed last night, making the tax effective Sunday, extends the increase only to July 1. But the legislature is expected to pass another bill next week, with the August cut-off date.
“I had hoped to be sworn in as governor during the scheduled inaugural ceremonies Monday noon,” Barron said after taking the oath from Secretary of State Joe F. Burdett.
“However, my plans had to be changed because of the pressing necessity of signing into law, at the earliest possible moment, this emergency and temporary increase in consumers sales tax,” the new governor added.
However, he and other newly elected members of the Board of Public Works and two state Supreme Court justices were to go through the formalities today.
Burdett’s office filled up fast long before midnight. Among those present were U.S. Sen. Robert Byrd, Congressman Ken Hechler, Democratic National Committeeman john Amos, and State Democratic Chairman Hulett C. Smith.
Barron, who moved with his family into the executive mansion yesterday, after the Underwoods moved to the Daniel Boone Hotel, arrived at Burdett’s office at 11:45 p.m.
With his were:
Mrs. Barron, and two of their daughters, Nancy and Jane; Barron’s sister, Mrs. Mary Spence Barron Teter of Elkins; his brother and sister-in-law, Mr. and Mrs. Fred Barron of Baltimore; Mrs. Barron’s brother, Fred Wilcox of Washington; the governor’s niece and nephew, Jane and Ray Fair of Elkins; Bonn Brown, Barron’s former law associate of Elkins, and Mike Wilverding, Elkins newspaper executive.
Three minutes before midnight, the Barrons and Burdett walked through Burdett’s adjoining suite of offices to the board room where Barron spent much of his time as attorney general under Underwood.
As the second hand on the clock swept to midnight, Barron placed his hand on a white-covered Bible and took the oath, saying only “I do” to Burdett’s recitation, asking him if he would swear to uphold the constitution of the United States, the constitution of West Virginia, and the state’s lase.
Burdett shook his hands and said “You’re in. Congratulations.” Then they repeated the ceremony for television and radio crews.
Outside, on the bank of the Kanawha River, a cannon boomed. It was manned by the West Virginia Highlanders, a kilt-clad group of American Legionnaires from Elkins, Barron’s home town.
Barron then picked up a pen and signed four copies of the tax increase bill, and said:
“Since the temporary tax raise will finance a crash program of public works to relieve the suffering of our unemployed people, I felt I could not, in good conscience, delay my action and cause a loss of state revenue to be used in our emergency program. It is of prime importance that we create jobs for our unfortunate unemployed citizens as speedily as we can.
“I will go through the formal inauguration ceremonies as originally planned. I shall do so with the satisfaction of knowing that legislation to aid our needy people has been pushed through to final enactment. On this historic occasion I am pleased that my first official act was to sign legislation which will put West Virginia quickly on the move ahead.”
Then, in off-the-cuff remarks to the audience, mostly Democratic, Barron said:
“I want to take this opportunity as governor and nominal head of the Democratic party to thank you for electing me governor and coming here tonight to make this a wonderful evening for Opal and myself and the children. I promise you I will give my all, not only for the people of West Virginia but for the Democratic party.”
Mrs. Barron kissed the governor and then both walked through the crowd, shaking hands and received congratulations.
By that time, 12:07 a.m. Underwood too had gone, leaving in the executive office only his executive secretary, Mrs. John Sleboda, who will remain temporarily with the Barron office force.
Assisting Underwood with his packing last night were Mrs. Sleboda, State Police Supt. and Mrs. Hazen Fair, Mrs. Lavonda Shear, Mrs. Rachel Hardman, Miss Martha Ford, Miss Maybelle Ruppert, and the governor’s messenger, Walter Ferguson, who will be retained by Barron.
Mrs. Fair found the Civil War boots in a closed and asked Underwood what to do with them. He told her to send them to the museum and that he didn’t remember where they had come from.
Underwood, the first Republican governor elected in this state since 1928, said he would move his family to Huntington as soon as he and Mrs. Underwood find a house.
He is to become vice president for public relations and sales of the Island Creek Coal Co.