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Farewell to Jay



Questions by Jake Stump
Photographed by M.G. Ellis

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While Jay Rockefeller is stepping down after 30 years in the United States Senate, his impact on West Virginia and West Virginia University will last forever.

What are your proudest accomplishments, as they pertain to the University?

I’ve been proud to be an adopted part of the West Virginia University family for so many years, so it’s hard to pick just a few. Whether working to pass the America COMPETES Act—which resulted in millions of research dollars for WVU—or creating the Noyce Scholarship program, I’m deeply honored with my relationship with WVU.

That being said, I would list the Blanchette Rockefeller Neurosciences Institute, at the Health Sciences campus, among my proudest connections to WVU.

Out of love for my mother and in an effort to prevent another family from going through the pain we felt as we watched her battle Alzheimer’s for 10 years—my family and I were fortunate to help create BRNI as a tribute to her, and as a fight for a cure. I’m proud to say that BRNI is the world’s only nonprofit, independent institute completely dedicated to the study of human memory and memory disorders.

So many people said it should be somewhere else—anywhere but West Virginia. But I flat-out rejected that advice. In my view, it had to be in West Virginia. And I’m so proud it’s at WVU.

What is one of your fondest memories at West Virginia University?

One of my fondest memories is being booed by 50,000 fans at Mountaineer Field. Now, that might sound strange, but it’s true. It happened at the first game at the new stadium, back when I was governor. People forget that building a new Mountaineer Field was not a popular idea. Every county had a Save Mountaineer Field club, and polls showed that those in favor of keeping the old stadium outnumbered those who wanted a new one two to one. So because I had pushed hard for a new stadium a lot of folks booed me pretty hard that day. But I saw Mountaineer Field as a key part of a big, bold and new direction not only for West Virginia athletics, but also the University and the state. It ushered in a new era—better facilities, better sports teams, more successful programs. I think most Mountaineer fans have forgiven me by now.

Where do you see the state and its flagship University in the years ahead? What must we do to prosper as one West Virginia and one West Virginia University?

President Gee and I go back many years. He is such an extraordinary leader. He pours everything into making WVU a stronger and global force for good for West Virginia and our people. President Gee is a visionary innovator, and WVU is thriving in his hands.

Just take a look at what’s happening. WVU recently entered into an arrangement with the National Radio Astronomy Observatory in Green Bank, which is not only a source of great pride to West Virginians but a cutting-edge center of astrophysics research. With NRAO Green Bank’s future in doubt, WVU stepped up in a big way to help sustain its operations.

Strengthening research, developing new programs focused on reversing chronic health disparities, advancing clean energy technologies at home and abroad, and the emergence of WVU’s biometrics and forensic sciences programs as among the best in the world—these are all indications that the future of WVU is bright indeed. E. Gordon Gee deserves a lot of credit.

What are your plans for retirement?

I’m looking forward to devoting more time to Sharon, our children and our grandchildren. They’ve been so endlessly supportive and bring me so much joy. While I am retiring from the Senate, I have every intention of continuing to dedicate my life to public service. I’ll just be doing it in new ways—including an exciting new venture with WVU that will continue to connect me with my home state for decades to come.