Coal Tattoo

Remembering Bob Gates

The Gazette’s Dr. Paul Nyden reported in this morning’s paper this sad news:

Robert F. “Bob” Gates Jr., a noted West Virginia filmmaker who focused on the impacts of mining on coalfield residents and the environment, died Saturday at the age of 69.

Gates helped found the West Virginia Filmmakers Guild. He also was a member of various environmental groups over the years, including the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy.

“Bob really enjoyed making films,” Molly Moorhead, Gates’ wife since 1993, said Monday. “The films he made show his own views and passions. He felt they had to be made. He was a great guy.”

The story continued:

A day after Pittston Coal’s sludge dams collapsed at the head of Buffalo Creek on Feb. 26, 1972, Gates visited the 17-mile-long hollow in Logan County.

Gates took scores of photographs — on the ground and in the air — documenting the devastation created by the flooded river, which killed 125 people and left thousands homeless. He later released a DVD featuring many of the photographs he took.

In 1977, Gates released his first film, “In Memory of the Land and People” — about the environmental damages caused by strip mining in Appalachia and other areas of the country. The music of composer Béla Bartók, local songs and comments from local people are featured throughout the film.

Paul noted:

Gates died on Groundhog Day, after having hosted many Groundhog Day parties at his home in Charleston over the years, Moorhead said.

“Bob loved Groundhog Day,” she said. “I took him a card, with a little groundhog on it, when he was in the hospital. He was up and about, but apparently started to bleed again and they couldn’t fix it.”

And for those who, like myself, enjoyed many an argument with Bob over the years at a certain local establishment:

Funeral arrangements were incomplete Monday. Terri Marion, a friend of Gates’ family, said there would be a memorial celebration later this month at the Empty Glass Café, on Elizabeth Street, to celebrate Gates’ life and films, which will be shown during the event. A date has not been determined, she said.