SUNNY CAL JOURNAL - Flamboyant, Irascible H. John Rogers Stormed Through Life

(01/31/2022)

H. John Rogers

By Bob Weaver

H. John Rogers, originally from Reader WV, was an acquaintance for at least 35 years. Our connection was linked to both of us being recovering alcoholics.

The Harvard graduate and attorney was one of the most irascible characters I've known in my lifetime, and likely one of the brightest.

It would be mild to say he was unpredictable, a word that could also describe our relationship, which usually meant me walking away with brain fag, in distress.

Born in Reader over a store building, he said that three residents of the tiny town graduated from Harvard. James Haught, editor emeritus of the Charleston Gazette was born in Reader.

H. John was always running for a WV political office, from Congress to Governor on down, never getting elected, and at one time, while I was a Calhoun Commissioner, he wrote a hand-written resume to become appointed prosecutor. God help us.

Many years ago he called me to photograph him on a horse or mule riding around the Mountain State, campaigning for governor. I clicked the photo, which has slipped through the cracks.

He often took up cases for "downtrodden" recovering alcoholics, which he delivered with soap-opera appeal, some going to the Supreme Court.

Rogers had the knack to bring equally qualifying arguments to equally disparaging cases - in four sentences. There's a lawyerly name for that.

He was always moving forward toward the next big thing.

I've often thought some talented writer would put a book together about his dubious life, but none felt up to the task.

Stripped of his license as an attorney for several years, he went to court over a mental hygiene case that landed him in a hospital at age 79, just before his death in 2020.

Hopefully, H. John had some joy in his life, he at one time sought comfort through religion as a cleric, obtaining two divinity degrees, and developing old world plays with ancient drama.

EDITOR HAUGHT WRITES ABOUT H. JOHN ROGERS
By James A. Haught, Editor Emeritus Charleston Gazette

Among West Virginia’s flamboyant politicos, hardly anyone (except maybe A. James Manchin) matched the off-the-wall career of H. John Rogers, who grabbed headlines as he ran unsuccessfully for nearly everything.

During a 1980 campaign appearance in Charleston in front of television cameras, he startled everyone by slugging WSAZ-TV reporter Loren Tobia.

Another time, at a Democratic national convention, he joked that he had a bomb, and was chased by security guards.

His quirky life ended at age 79 last weekend in Wheeling Hospital – and even his death was unusual. The New Martinsville ex-lawyer had been charged with “intimidating a public officer” and was held at the Moundsville regional jail, where he protested that he was denied crucial medication. He was transferred to the hospital and died Feb. 1.

I told his brother that the public officer shouldn’t have felt intimidated, because everything Rogers did was at least halfway whimsical.

Rogers grew up in my home town of Reader, Wetzel County, where he lived over a store. Everyone called him Herbie. He sometimes said that three residents of that building attended Harvard.

He was a track star and attended WVU on a track scholarship. Highly intelligent, he was in Phi Beta Kappa and went to Harvard law school. One night he showed up at my Charleston home with a classmate, saying they had dropped out of Harvard and were hitchhiking to Mexico.

But he returned to Harvard, earned a law degree in 1966, and became a clerk for federal Judge Robert Maxwell of Elkins. With friends, he formed a troupe performing ancient medieval morality plays with characters wearing masks of God, Satan, archangels and the like. It upset some West Virginia church congregations.

Over the decades, he filed for governor, state Supreme Court, state Senate and county prosecutor. He also earned two divinity degrees and became a part-time minister specializing in Christian relationship to Jews. He made pilgrimages to the Holy Land.

Rogers often drew controversy. Years ago, he launched a cross-country Reader Marathon, which ended tragically when some runners died in extreme September heat. Retired newsman H. Ray Evans sent a note saying: “I remember his catastrophic West Virginia marathon, his highly unusual return to Harvard to finish his law degree after working as a prison guard, and his deep dive into religion and philosophy. I also have vague memories of writing stories about his West Virginia Theater Corp. that traveled around putting on morality plays and scaring the bejesus out of local folks up the hills and hollers.”

In 2009, Rogers was kicked out of a New Martinsville coffee shop. The next day, he filed a mental health complaint, and the coffee shop owner was hauled to a Wheeling psychiatric clinic – but quickly released. The Lawyer Disciplinary Board accused Rogers of abusing his legal authority, and the state Supreme Court disbarred him in 2013.

Now his wild life is over. West Virginia has lost an unquenchable character.

— James Haught is editor emeritus of West Virginia’s largest newspaper, The Charleston Gazette-Mail.