LOOKING BACK AT BOB MOLLOHAN (1910-1999) - Calhoun's Most Famous Politician


Robert H. Mollohan (1910-1999)

By Bob Weaver 1999

He is perhaps Calhoun's most famous politician, serving nine terms in the U.S. Congress. His roots he never forgot. He was always coming back and connecting with his friends. Mollohan was a consummate politician, learning his skills early in the heydey of Calhoun politics.

The skills came natural to him. He was outgoing, humorous, warm and loyal. His son, Congressman Alan Mollohan, was his most important political legacy, then falling from grace.

The elder Mollohan will be remembered in Calhoun for his old-style political ways, where he helped people when they needed it and the building of alliances within families and constituents - the powerful connection of trading favors.

He would do what he said and he stuck with his friends. Certainly, over many years he had his foes and detractors, even here in Calhoun County.

Born in Grantsville, he was the the son of Robert Perry and Edith Witte Mollohan. His roots go back to Minnora, Washington District. His grandfather, Perry Mollohan (1845-1898), engaged in farming and started the first general store on the West Fork with R. J. Chenoweth, and his great-grandfather, Nathan Mollohan (1812-1875) was an earlier settler in Washington Township, owning 5,000 acres in the West Fork region.

The Mollohan clan, in the past 150 years, married into other well known Calhoun families, like Ellison, Boone, Shock, Huffman, Hamrick, Duffield, Knotts, Boggs, Westfall, Hamilton, Witte, Jarvis, Stump, VanHorn, among others. The Mollohan family history reveals much of the workings of Calhoun politics during this century.

Bob Mollohan's father, Robert Perry Mollohan, moved to Grantsville in 1908 and operated a store, soon to be appointed Deputy Assessor by Robert J. Knotts in 1910. He was the youngest Justice of Peace at age twenty-one to be elected in West Virginia.

He was Calhoun County Clerk from from 1939 to his death in 1946. His other son, Ernest Mollohan, operated the Calhoun Super Service and was President of the first Calhoun Board of Education.

A young Robert H. Mollohan had a flair for politics quite early, ringing doorbells in Grantsville to get out the vote, later becoming a Precinct Captain at age twenty-three. He married Helen Holt of Gilmer County and began his public service career, which includes Internal Revenue Service, 1933-38; District Manager for the WPA, becoming an associate of Sen. Mathew Neely, 1939-40; State Director of the 1940 Census; WPA Administrator 1940-41, during which the construction of the current Calhoun jail and courthouse was planned; Superintendent of Industrial School for Boys at Pruntytown, 1941-48.

Mollohan managed Sen. Neely's U.S. Senate campaign, later to join Neely's staff in Washington, 1948; Staff Director, Committee of U. S. Senate, 1949-50; Member of the U.S. House of representatives for nine terms starting in 1953 and ending in his retirement in 1982.

His House career was interrupted when he ran for Governor against Republican Cecil Underwood in 1956. Underwood defeated him after The Charleston Gazette revealed that he took $20,000 and two cars from a coal operator that stripped land at the Pruntytown reformatory when he was superintendent.

"Today, it is not uncommon for candidates for governor to receive hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign money from coal operators, and it's ok," Mollohan said later.

Mollohan encountered the infamous Arch A. Moore in another ill-fated bid to get back into Congress in 1966. Moore later went to prison for his transgressions, after becoming governor.

Mollohan went on to be a successful businessman, having developed the Ramada Inn in Morgantown among other business interests.

The Charleston Gazette often badgered him about how he became a millionaire while holding government jobs. He was proud that he was instrumental in helping the Pratt and Whitney Aircraft Service locate at Bridgeport, and helping pass the Emergency Medical Services Act.

Years ago, he purchased the back-to-landers Armadillo Farm on Rowels Run.

Although he maintained the firmest of ties with Calhoun people, often expressing his gratitude and affection, he was laid to rest at his wife's family cemetery in Gilmer County.