William Gustavus Conley

Charleston Daily Mail
October 22, 1940

Ex-Governor Wm. G. Conley Claimed at 74

The body of William Gustavus Conley, 18th governor of West Virginia and Charleston attorney, will be interred Wednesday afternoon in Sunset Memorial park following funeral services at 2 o'clock at Christ Methodist church, Quarrier and Morris streets.

An illness that began last April with an attack of influenza upon his return from a winter's stay at Palm Bay, Fla., caused the death of the state's 74-year-old former chief executive Monday night in the Kanawha Valley hospital.

His condition became serious last Thursday, when he was removed from his home to the hospital, although his illness had been such that he had not been able to visit his law office for almost a month.

Wife Died Last Year

His wife, the former Bertie Ison Martin of Preston county, died Oct. 28, 1939.

Mr. Conley is survived by two sons, James S. Conley of 849 Edgewood drive, a member of the former governor's law firm of Conley, Thompson and Neff, and Don M. Conley of Pampa, Tex.; one daughter, Mrs. Vincent Legg of 1624 Quarrier street; one sister, Mrs. Mary Jane Greaser of Masontown, Preston county, and seven grandchildren, Donna Conley and Bobby Conley of Pampa, James L. Conley, William G. Conley, III, and Michael S. Conley of Charleston, and Vincent Legg, Jr., and Betty Legg of Charleston.

Hoffman to Officiate

Rev. Joseph C. Hoffman, pastor of Christ Methodist church, of which Mr. Conley was a member, will officiate at the funeral services.

The body will be moved Tuesday afternoon from the Simpson mortuary to the home of the former governor at 1565 Virginia street, where it will remain until shortly before the funeral.

Active pallbearers will be Alexander M. Mahood, A. Garnett Thompson, Harold H. Neff, Howard R. Klostermeyer, James C. Anderson and W. C. Revercomb. There will be no honorary pallbearers.

'Depression Era' Governor

Mr. Conley came to the governorship in the year the stock market collapse signalled a gloomy era of business depression, and the administration of his office became concerned primarily with measures to counteract it. The suffering that was nation-wide culminated two years later in widespread unemployment and depleted funds for the operation of the state government. West Virginia was one of the states hardest hit by the 1930 drought and farmers suffered greatly from the loss of their crops.

The decline laid its paralyzing hand on coal and other basic industries, and the situation became so acute that in July, 1932, Governor Conley called the legislature into extra session to make provision for reducing the state's deficit, then estimated at about $2,500,000. He recommended reduction of salaries, paring of expenses and remedial legislation to permit borrowing funds for relief purposes.

Tax Plans Rejected

The governor asked for tax on tobacco and other so-called luxuries to pay off the deficit but the legislature set its face against any new taxes whatsoever and took the view that the deficit should be absorbed by economy. The department of prohibition, the bridge commission and other agencies were abolished. Salaries were cut, not only those of state officials but every person in the public service, including school teachers. The 1931 budget bill was reduced on a percentage basis and departments were directed to curtail their operations to take care of the reductions.

It was during Governor Conley's administration that the state's $10,000,000 capitol was completed after almost 10 years, and he was the first to occupy the beautiful quarters.

Mr. Conley was elected in November, 1928, to serve as governor from March 4, 1929, to March 4, 1933. In the primary contest he defeated Judge H. Roy Waugh of Buckhannon, for the Republican nomination and won the general election from J. Alfred Taylor of Fayetteville, the Democratic nominee.

His election as governor crowned a career that had been largely devoted to public life and the service of the Republican party. He served in various capacities in the party and also served as state attorney general.

Native of Preston County

He was born Jan. 8, 1866, near Kingwood, Preston county, son of Major William and Mary (Freeburn) Conley. After working on a farm for several years he was variously employed in railroad work, coal mining and sawmill work to help with the support of his widowed mother and his sisters. He found time, however, to attend district schools near his home and later West Virginia uniginia [sic] university from which he received a degree of bachelor of law in 1893.

Mr. Conley taught school for five years and was elected Preston county superintendent of schools for one two-year term. He then moved to Parsons in Tucker county where for 10 years he practiced law. He was prosecuting attorney of Tucker county, 1897-1905; member of the Parsons city council, 1897- 1899, and mayor of Parsons, 1896-1897. He moved to Kingwood in 1903 for the practice of law and was appointed local attorney for the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad company.

A membership in the Kingwood city council, 1903-1905, was followed by a term as mayor of Kingwood from 1906 to 1908.

Appointed by Dawson

Governor William M. O. Dawson in 1908 appointed Mr. Conley as attorney general, and the same year he was nominated and elected for both the short and long terms in the office. While holding that office he acted for the state in the boundary dispute with the state of Maryland before the United States supreme court, the Virginia debt suit before the same court and the two-cent rate case of the Chesapeake and Ohio railway.

Mr. Conley was the Republican nominee for congress in 1912 but was defeated for election by 14 votes.

After retiring as attorney general, Mr. Conley made his home in Charleston and formed a law partnership with Clyde Beecher Johnson which continued until his election as governor. He was appointed a member of the state board of education in June, 1924, and resigned March 1, 1929.

Organized Law Firm

Upon completion of his term as governor, he organized the Charleston law firm of Conley, Thompson and Neff, composed of William G. Conley, A. Garnett Thompson, James S. Conley and Harold H. Neff, with offices in the Union building.

Mr. Conley engaged in many other activities. He was chairman of the Republican county committee of Tucker county for six years; was a delegate to the National League of Republican clubs, 1905; assistant secretary of Republican national convention, 1896; secretary and subsequently chairman of the Congressional Committee of the Second West Virginia district.

He was for a number of years vice president, director and general attorney of the Scottish Rite Educational association; vice president and director of West Virginia University Student Loan Fund association, part owner of the Parsons Advocate from 1896 to 1903; honorary member of the council of the United States Educational association; member of the advisory council, United States Law Review; member of the national advisory board National Thrift committee; member of the Greenbrier Gold and Tennis clubs; Berkeley Aviation; Southern West Virginia Auto association; Rotary International; national honorary member of the Variety club of Pittsburgh; Union League of Washington, D. C.; Melbourne (Fla.) Golf and Country club; member Phi Beta Kappa, Pi Gamma Mu; I.O.O.F.; Knights of Pythias, of which he was past chancellor commander and district deputy grand chancellor; 33rd degree Mason; Shriner; former Master of Kadosh, member and trustee of the Christ Methodist church of Charleston; member of the American Law institute; American Judicature society; Commercial Law association; American, state and city bar associations.

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