Charleston Daily Mail
January 14, 1957
GOP Surprise Vow Aimed To Thwart Dem Machinations
By Bob Mellace, Daily Mail Political Editor
Cecil H. Underwood was sworn in last midnight as governor of West Virginia in Room 341 of the Kanawha Hotel. He immediately issued orders to suspend all contracts made by the outgoing Marland administration for liquor, road equipment and tires.
In a surprise move that was well organized for all the secrecy surrounding it before his formal inauguration today, Underwood took the oath at 12:06 a.m. with only members of his family and close political allies present.
Administering the oath was Wayman R. Brown, a notary public and right-of-way agent for the Columbian Fuel Corporation.
Underwood’s only comment was “My purpose is to prevent any more resignations and lame duck appointments.”
This was a reference to former State Supreme Court Judge William T. Lovins who resigned Friday night and named his own successor with Gov. Marland’s consent. Also, Marland appointed a member of the State Board of Education Saturday, filling a vacancy created by the resignation of a Republican Del. Elizabeth V. Hallanan of Charleston.
Underwood would make no comment on two directives he sent to the State Liquor Commission and State Road Commission. But his campaign publicity director, William Blake of Ronceverte, told The Daily Mail:
“It’s my understanding they’ve bought enough liquor and tires since the Nov. 6 election to last another four years, and road equipment on the same large scale.”
Standing in a doorway of his hotel room with his family in the room and friends in the corridor, Underwood took the oath administered by Brown. Then things and people moved swiftly.
H. William Largent of Morgantown, attorney for the Republican state executive committee, and others drove immediately to the home of Secretary of State D. Pitt O’Brien to get the swearing-in on record. At 2214 Washington Street East O’Brien had no authority to file anything. His term expired at midnight.
Therefore, Brown administered the oath to O’Brien, a Democrat, who was to have been sworn in today with Underwood and other members of the Board of Public Works.
O’Brien said it was explained that Underwood already had taken the oath (at 12:06 a.m.) and his signature as secretary of state was needed to make it official.
The official said he was handed two documents, thinking one was Underwood’s and other his own. It turned out, however, that both documents were Underwood forms, one for the official records and one for the new governor’s files.
So after the gathering broke up, O’Brien said he realized he had not signed an oath, although Wayman Brown had administered O’Brien’s oath so he could begin a new term and therefore be qualified to sign Underwood’s papers.
O’Brien called Underwood’s hotel, got hold of an aide and explained the situation. They then trooped out to O’Brien’s house again and he signed an oath document on his own behalf.
Back at the Kanawha, Underwood made his first official act. He signed the directives ordering the suspension of purchases by the liquor and road commissions. Then he went to bed.
Contacted at his home early today, ex-Gov. Marland expressed surprise at Underwood’s action. He said he had heard nothing about the move until the reporter’s call.
Asked for comment, the former chief executive said only:
“I think they’re so misinformed that no comment is necessary.”
Marland listened quietly while a reporter told him what had happened. He chuckled once, at mention of O’Brien’s inability to put the proceedings on record until he himself was sworn in.
On Blake’s statement of the reason for Underwood’s surprise move, Marland said:
“It sounds to me like the Republicans are judging everyone by themselves.”
Not since Gov. M. M. Neely was sworn in at midnight in 1941 has a chief executive taken the oath of office before the formal swearing. And, like Neely, Underwood was to go through the inauguration formalities today as scheduled.
Technically, he would not have been governor until shortly after noon today.
There is some question whether Marland, between midnight and noon could have taken any official action. But the Republicans were taking no chances.
Witnessing the midnight ceremony were the following:
Blake, U.S. Senator Chapman Revercomb, State GOP Chairman John D. Hoblitzell Jr., Senate Minority Leader John Carrigan, House Minority Leader George H. Seibert Jr., House Parliamentarian Oshel C. Parsons, Largent, Del. Tom Welch (D-Marshall), former State Senator Donald VanCamp, Mr. and Mrs. Hazen Fair, and former Delegate Sherman Ballard.
Mrs. Cecil Underwood and their daughter Cecilia; the Governor’s three sisters and their husbands, Mr. and Mrs. Roy Williamson, Mr. and Mrs. Martin Lemasters, Mr. and Mrs. Ferrell; the Governor’s brother and sister-in-law, Mr. and Mrs. Clint Underwood; the Governor’s nieces, Barbara and Betty Ferrell; his nephew, Gary Underwood, and Mrs. Underwood’s three sisters and their husbands, Mr. and Mrs. Robert Donofrio, Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Calla, and Mr. and Mrs. Frank Abbruzzino.