Ronald Eugene Samples, who became a leading figure in the national energy sector while running Consolidation Coal Co. and Arch Minerals Corp. in the late 20th century, died Friday. He was 86 and lived in St. Augustine, Fla.
Mr. Samples' career in the mining industry spanned more than 40 years and several Appalachian states, though his final stints in the top jobs at Consolidation and Arch Minerals featured business decisions that would shape the regional energy giants for decades to come. His work would even inspire a unique honor -- a coal mine named for him.
Mr. Samples, who went by "Gene," was born an oldest son in Boonville, Ind. He began his career in mining after graduating from the New Mexico School of Mines in 1950, where he enrolled after a two-year stint in the Navy. After graduating, Mr. Samples worked as an engineer before joining Consolidation Coal (now known as Consol Energy) in 1966 as a vice president. A little more than 10 years later -- and despite a brief leave from the company -- Mr. Samples would be named chairman and CEO.
In the top job, Mr. Samples would soon be recognized as a national figure on the energy scene. He served as chairman of the National Coal Association during that time and was quick to defend the mining industry to politicians and the media.
"The coal industry has repeatedly told government officials that actions to reduce the obstacles to increased coal use do not require abandoning environmental, health, safety and other goals," he said in a February 1981 interview with the Washington Observer-Reporter. "The need is to identify and adjust those requirements which are more stringent than necessary, which introduce unnecessary delays or costs, or which do not reflect the best balance among national objectives."
But Mr. Samples also got to enjoy the lighter perks of being a coal kingpin: He stepped into the beauty pageant circuit in 1980, when he was invited to crown the Bituminous Coal Queen at the annual King Coal Show in Carmichaels.
After about five years at Consolidation, Mr. Samples left to join Arch Mineral (now called Arch Coal) as president and chief operating officer. He was named CEO in 1987 and chairman in 1989 before stepping down in 1992.
Mr. Samples' engineering background made him stand out at the time, said Dan Gerkin, senior vice president of political affairs at the National Mining Association who worked with Mr. Samples when it was called the National Coal Association.
"That was a time when the finance guys were taking over the leadership roles in the coal industry," said Mr. Gerkin.
Mr. Samples' tenure at Arch was marked by management overhauls that shook up the leadership at several major mines, and by aggressive acquisitions that expanded operations across the country.
After his retirement, Mr. Samples got a parting gift beyond the typical gold watch -- the firm dedicated a massive mountaintop removal mining operation to its former chairman. The Samples mine, at one point among the largest surface mines in the eastern United States, was sold in 2006.
Mr. Samples is survived by his wife of 62 years, Virginia A. Derr; a brother, Donald Samples; a sister, Janet Samples; four children, Ronald E. II; Rebecca S. O'Connell; Thomas H.; and Susan S. Kaper. He also had 11 grandchildren. A memorial service for Mr. Samples is being held today at the Glenmoor Retirement Community in St. Augustine.
Erich Schwartzel: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1455.