By Ron Gregory
CHARLESTON — U.S. Senator Jay Rockefeller successfully dispelled rumors of his passing Friday, February 28, during a visit to Christ Church United Methodist in downtown Charleston.
The senator’s pre-arranged meeting at the church was designed to reflect on Rockefeller’s 50 years “of support for West Virginia families.”
When the senior Democrat senator, who is retiring at the end of his current term, walked into the room using a crutch, he chucked at reports earlier in the day that he was “missing.” Internet reports and “tweets” actually announced that the senator had passed away and his alleged death was the subject of constant rumors Friday morning at the statehouse.
A Rockefeller aide said the senator suspected, “some Republican started that story,” although he said Rockefeller had “taken it with a light heart.” The senator did tell the crowd, however, that upon learning he has supposedly “disappeared,” he immediately tried to call his wife, Sharon Percy Rockefeller, was unable to reach her. “I think she knows by now that I’m alive,” he chuckled.
Meeting with his supporters at the church, Rockefeller said a great deal has been accomplished in his 50 years of public service, “but there is more work to do if we are to give all families in the state every possible chance to succeed.”
During the meeting, supporters noted some of Rockefeller’s pro-family initiatives during his career. Included are the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), which has provided health care to more than eight million children nationwide; the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), which he said puts more money “back into working families’ pockets;” Head Start, which provides early childhood education, nutrition and health care for 7,500 children in the state; Medicaid, which provides health care for half-a-million West Virginians and created 20,000 jobs in the state; and Pell Grants and other college programs aimed at making a college education more affordable.
Rockefeller said since the beginning of his public service career in the Peace Corps and as a VISTA volunteer in southern West Virginia, he has worked “for greater access to education, healthcare and economic security for all West Virginians.”
A panel of public service advocates participated with the senator in the forum.
Ted Boettner, executive director of the West Virginia Center for Budget and Policy, praised Rockefeller’s work. “No one has fought harder and accomplished more in helping working families in West Virginia than Senator Jay Rockefeller,” he said.