By LEIGH C. MERRIFIELD
News & Journal Editor
Both Jim Justice and Landau Eugene Murphy, Jr. hail from the southern part of the Mountain State, and while their beginnings may have differed, they do share some commonalities.
Justice, whose family was in the agriculture business in Raleigh County, did seek a higher education following high school, earning both a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree. He then entered the family’s agri-business and NOW operates 50,000 acres of farmland that is the leading producer of grain on the east coast of the U.S. He is also a seven-time national corn growing champion.
Justice also ventured into the coal business where many miners were once again given the opportunity to work for a living. Next it was his acquisition of the renowned Greenbrier Resort that brought him attention. After saving the resort from bankruptcy, Justine has worked hard to bring back its laid-off employees as well as to add vacation and health benefits to their contracts. The resort continues to grow, and according to Forbes Magazine, Justice is the richest man in West Virginia!
With plenty of money and power, he didn’t have to seek political office for importance. Yet he did … winning the race for Governor in the 2016 election.
Despite his many interests, responsibilities, and fortune, Justice continues to give back and contribute to charity and worthwhile causes! Some of those include $25 million to the Summit Bechtel Scout Reserve, $5 to Marshall University, $10 million to the Cleveland Clinic, and an annual $1 million in gifts through the Dram Tree for Kids, allowing deserving children to have gifts at Christmas.
Perhaps it is no wonder that he turned to another WV native – Landau Eugene Murphy, Jr. – to perform at his inauguration festivities held this past Monday night at the Greenbrier Resort.
Murphy’s beginnings, however, were much more humble. He was homeless and washing cars in his hometown of Logan, WV to get along when he decided in 2014 to compete on America’s Got Talent. He won the competition, proving to many that regardless of looks, a poor existence, and a meager wardrobe, his soulful talented vocals, his personality and determination could take him to the top!
Murphy now plays to sold out concerts across three continents; his recordings have hit the top of the charts; and he has realized many of his dreams including performing with his childhood favorites Patti Labelle and Glenn Leonard, the former lead vocalist of The Temptations. In addition to wowing judges in the music industry, Murphy continues to inspire readers with his book that chronicles his rags to riches life story.
He, too, is charity-driven. One of his CDs was a fundraising effort to benefit The Children’s Home Society charity where he used to volunteer before fame knocked at his door. He entertains U.S. troops, does many toy drives for children at his performances, helps with disaster relief efforts, and continues to insist upon personally meeting and greeting his fans following his shows. While he could easily afford to move to larger cities that are entertainment meccas, he continues to reside in West Virginia, saying that it “keeps me humble and grounded”.
Both men have been honored with numerous prestigious awards and titles; yet they remain true to their West Virginia roots and are proud of it.
West Virginia’s motto, translated from Latin, says that “Mountaineers Are Always Free”; as these two gentlemen exemplify, Mountaineers are also generous and giving people.