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The Kee Family controlled the old West Virginia 5th District Congressional seat for 40 consecutive years. From 1933 until 1973, John, his wife Elizabeth, and their son, James, were members of the West Virginia congressional delegation.

John Kee, (August 22, 1874 – May 8, 1951) a Glenville native and Glenville State College graduate, relocated to Bluefield in 1910 after studying law at West Virginia University and practicing law in Glenville and, for a short while, in Mexico. After serving in the West Virginia Senate from 1923 to 1927 John was elected in the Franklin Roosevelt landslide of 1932 to the 73rd Congress, defeating Republican incumbent Hugh Ike Shott. By 1949, he had risen in seniority to be named chairman of the powerful House Foreign Affairs Committee. John, who had a history of heart problems, died of a heart attack while presiding over a meeting of his committee on May 8, 1951, and is buried in Bluefield.

Elizabeth Kee (June 7, 1895 – February 15, 1975) was born Maude Etta Simpkins in Radford, Virginia, and moved to Bluefield upon her marriage to John. She served as her husband’s executive assistant during his entire congressional career and was well known back in the district. Upon his death, she won a July 1951 special election for his seat, defeating Republican Cyrus Gadd. She was the first woman elected from West Virginia to Congress, where she would serve for nearly 14 years. The second West Virginia congresswoman, Shelley Moore Capito, would not be elected until 2000, nearly a half century later. Kee’s committee assignments included Government Operations, Interior and Insular Affairs, and Veterans Affairs, chairing the subcommittee on veterans hospitals. Always popular in her district and winning by large margins, she decided against seeking another term in 1964, paving the way for her son to take over her seat. Elizabeth died February 15, 1975, following abdominal surgery, and is buried beside her husband in Bluefield.

James Kee (April 15, 1917 – March 11, 1989) was born in Bluefield and attended multiple schools in addition to Georgetown University in Washington while his father was serving in Congress. He served in a number of federal posts, as well as the Army Air Corps during World War II, until his mother’s election to John Kee’s seat. James then became her administrative assistant, serving until his own election in 1964. As Congressman, James kept alive the family tradition of naming a close relative to be his administrative assistant by choosing daughter Kirsten for the position.

Following the 1970 census, a loss in population cost West Virginia a congressional seat. Speculation was that the state legislature intended to force the defeat of Congressman Ken Hechler in 1972 when it redrew the district boundaries to include approximately two-thirds of Kee’s 5th District with a smaller portion of Hechler’s 4th District. Regardless, Hechler won a sizable Democratic primary victory over James Kee, ending the Kee dynasty. James died of lung disease in Montgomery on March 11, 1989, and, like his parents, is buried in Bluefield.

This Article was written by Michael K. Wilson

Last Revised on April 12, 2017


Sources

Biographical Directory of the United States Congress, 1774 – Present. Washington: United States Congress, 27 February 2017.

Rep. Kee, Glenville Graduate, Dies Suddenly. The Glenville Mercury, 15 May 1951.

Hill, Ray. The Kees of West Virginia. Knoxville Focus, 14 August 2014.

Cite This Article

Wilson, Michael K. "Kee Family." e-WV: The West Virginia Encyclopedia. 12 April 2017. Web. 19 January 2018.

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