Earl Ray Tomblin, who was born March 15, 1952, in Logan County, was one of West Virginia’s longest-serving legislators when he became the state’s 35th governor. He was elected as a Democrat from Logan County to the House of Delegates in 1974, when he was only 22 years old and still a senior at West Virginia University. After serving three two-year terms in the House, Tomblin was elected to the first of eight four-year terms in the Senate in 1980. He rose in the Senate to serve eight years as chairman of the powerful Finance Committee before being elected as the 48th president of the Senate on January 11, 1995.
Tomblin became acting governor on November 15, 2010, after former Governor Joe Manchin was elected to succeed the late Robert C. Byrd in the U.S. Senate. That made Tomblin the second Senate president to serve as governor and the first one to do so under the state Constitution adopted in 1872. The only previous Senate president to act as governor was Daniel D.T. Farnsworth, who served as the state’s second governor only for a week, February 26 to March 4, 1869. Tomblin, however, acted as governor while remaining Senate president for almost a full year. In a special election on October 4, 2011, he defeated Republican businessman Bill Maloney to serve the remainder of Manchin’s unexpired term, which by then had a little more than one year left. When Tomblin stepped down as Senate president on November 13, 2011, he had led the Senate for 6,150 days or almost 17 years, which was more than twice as long as any previous president of the Senate. Tomblin was elected to a full four-year term on November 6, 2012, defeating Maloney for a second time.
Tomblin was introduced early to political life. His father, Earl, was active in Logan County politics and served in such positions as justice of the peace and sheriff. His father and mother, Freda, also owned and operated a restaurant in Chapmanville. Tomblin received a bachelor’s degree from WVU and a master’s degree from Marshall University. He worked as substitute teacher briefly, owned and managed rental properties and also worked for Southern Amusement Company, the gaming machine business owned by his parents. He left Southern Amusements in 1994 after being nominated to become president of the Senate.
Tomblin’s wife, Joanne, worked at Southern West Virginia Community and Technical College for 18 years before being chosen as the college’s president in 1999. She continued to serve in that position after she became the state’s first lady. The Tomblins have one son, Brent.
Written by Jim Wallace