CHAPMANVILLE — The Chapmanville community lost another one of its own Sunday with the sudden passing of Mayor Raamie Barker. Barker was appointed as mayor in 2016 following Jerry Price’s resignation, and was in his first term after winning the June 2019 election.
Barker was 73 years old.
On Monday, many remembered Barker for his decades of service to his community. Throughout his life, Barker worked as an educator, newspaper reporter and editor, governmental chief of staff and senior adviser and speechwriter.
Born in Logan on Nov. 19, 1946, he was the oldest son of the late Betty Jane Barker and Fletcher “Shag” Barker, a longtime Chapmanville High football coach who also served as the town’s mayor. After graduating from Chapmanville High School in 1964, Barker earned his bachelor’s degree in journalism from Marshall University in 1968 and his master’s in 1992.
Barker also held degrees in safety and education and a minor in political science.
His journalism career included positions as reporter and editor of The Logan Banner and Williamson Daily News, editor and publisher of the Coal Valley News, copy editor of the Beckley Register-Herald, editor for Bob Jones University Magazine, a reporter for WCHS-TV and publisher of the Enquirer-Journal in Monroe, North Carolina. He also had a short stint as the public relations director for Appalachian Power.
As an educator, he taught at Chapmanville, Sharples, Logan and Chapmanville Regional high schools and was an adjunct professor at the University of Charleston and Southern West Virginia Community and Technical College. He also served as secretary to the board of governors of SWVCTC and advised on the passage of legislation that created the Promise Scholarship and the West Virginia Sesquicentennial Commission.
He served in the administrations of two former governors, Arch A. Moore Jr. and Earl Ray Tomblin. Under Moore, Barker was labor commissioner, an aide to the governor and a speechwriter.
Barker served as Tomblin’s chief of staff in 1996, when Tomblin was still West Virginia State Senate president and lieutenant governor. He served in the same role when Tomblin became governor, also writing speeches. . Barker was also a speechwriter for Tomblin.
“His true passion was writing,” said his son, Josh Barker. “He loved writing stories, and he was one of the best. He could pull you into a story and make you feel like you were right in the middle of it.”
Josh Barker — who follows in his father’s footsteps as a public servant as a former member of the West Virginia House of Delegates, former town manager of Danville, a senior adviser for West Virginia State Auditor J.B. McCuskey and a current candidate for Boone County Commission — grew emotional as he recalled memories of his father.
“If I had to describe my dad, my dad was the ultimate definition of what a public servant is,” Josh Barker said. “I had no ambition of being in public service. It wasn’t what I wanted to do in life, but after being around one of the best, how could you not want to be like your daddy? And I find myself being more like him every day. He was a remarkable man, and he was an honest person.
“Dad was a true team player,” he added. “He never wanted to be in office. He never wanted to be in the limelight — he always wanted the team to win. That’s why he worked for Earl Ray, and that’s why he worked for Arch Moore and those people. He always wanted everybody to be successful that was around him. It didn’t matter if they had a ‘D’ or an ‘R’ in front of their name. His office was always open, and he always helped them.”
Josh Barker said his father’s first job out of college was as a campaign manager for presidential candidate Robert F. “Bobby” Kennedy, who was assassinated in 1968. Josh also said that Raamie Barker was appointed by Gov. Arch Moore Jr. as a special ambassador to England, and befriended Tony Blair during a visit to West Virginia before he served as the country’s prime minister.
Other leaders reflected on their memories of Barker on Monday.
“So saddened to hear about the passing of Raamie Barker,” said Gov. Jim Justice. “He was a dedicated and tireless public servant who always put the people of West Virginia first. Cathy and I offer our deepest condolences and prayers to his family, friends and the entire town of Chapmanville.”
In a statement, U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) said Barker was a dear friend.
“I always knew I could trust him to give honest advice because when he gave you guidance, you knew that it came from his heart,” Manchin said. “Raamie was a tireless public servant.”
Logan Mayor Serafino Nolletti described Barker’s passing as a real shock and grew emotional as he reflected on his friendship with Barker, which long predates their tenures as Logan County mayors.
“Me and Raamie go way, way back, even before my time in the mayor’s position. It goes back to my time at the City Bakery,” Nolletti said. “As far as the city, I’ve been here 20 years. When I became a councilman back in 1999, he was always there to help me when he was Earl Ray’s righthand man. He was always there to help the City of Logan with anything. I always knew I could pick the phone up, and he was always there to answer my questions.”
Following Barker’s passing, the City of Logan ordered their flag at city hall to be flown at half-mast in his honor. “Hopefully, all the cities in our county did the same thing in honor of him,” Nolletti said.
Mayoral assistant Miranda Robinette remembered Barker as being someone who she was initially “scared to death of,” but later came to know him as family.
“I got to know this man and love him like he’s my own dad,” she said. “He’s full of jokes and some of the most amazing stories. He’s taught me so many things over the past few years that I will never forget. I cherish this man and love my mayor like no other. The world lost an amazing man, but heaven gained one of the best. Please pray for the Barker family and the town. He’s one that will never be forgotten.”
In addition to his public service, Barker was a member of the First Baptist Church of Chapmanville, and he was three-time president of the Chapmanville Kiwanis Club.
Survivors include his wife of 49 years, Lillian “Bunny” Barker; two daughters, Ashlee (Matt) Vititoe and Courtenay (Ryan) Webb; one son, Josh (Jill) Barker; three sisters, Judy (John) Short, Dawn (Thurman) Adams and Prudy (Joe) Cremeans; two brothers, George (AlynSue) Barker and John (Kelley) Barker; four grandchildren, Madison Webb, Brody Webb, Katy Barker and Lilly Barker; three foster children, Penny Russ, Tammy Wilcox and Carolyn Vallandingham; and a host of nieces, nephews, cousins and friends.
Barker’s memorial services will be at 2 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 15, at Chapmanville Regional High School. Pastor Jeff Hargraves, Greg Dalton and Josh Barker will officiate.