There was a time when Jay Rockefeller could have faced defending himself from accusations that he was too focused on Weirton and the Northern Panhandle.
But from his efforts as Gov. Jay Rockefeller in the early 1980s to be sure Weirton Steel Corp. survived into its days as an employee-owned independent company through his efforts to lead a fight against unfair imports as Sen. Jay Rockefeller, his efforts were welcomed. He assisted steelworkers to receive benefits and educational opportunities.
He continues to work now for redevelopment of the former steel mill sites, too.
Those efforts were worthy of the honors lauded upon him during a visit to the area on Monday. He received the "Man of Steel" award from the Cold Finished Bar Institute and a lifetime achievement award from the United Steelworkers union.
Though the mills in Weirton and the former Wheeling-Pittsburgh Steel sites are diminished compared with their heyday, it can be argued that, absent Rockefeller's efforts as governor and senator, the Ohio Valley would have suffered the fate of the loss of its steel mills far sooner than the middle of the last decade.
Rockefeller said he was honored by working for the Northern Panhandle and the steelworkers.
He was always open and available to the people of the area, and had a willing ear. He also was honest about what he could accomplish and what might need more time to develop, but he always worked hard to be sure the best outcomes were in the realm of possibility.
Rockefeller passed the torch as leader of the Senate Steel Caucus to Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio. Brown is known for taking stands for labor throughout his political career.
Rockefeller will be leaving office at the end of this year when his current term ends.
His efforts on steel are just part of what we know he has meant to the Northern Panhandle and its people. The Route 22 expressway and a variety of other economic development efforts all can trace some roots to Jay Rockefeller.
And, though he wasn't their governor or senator, by proximity and the businesses that cross the river, Rockefeller's efforts impacted residents of Eastern Ohio, too.
Whoever does take the Senate seat in West Virginia when Rockefeller leaves will have a working pattern of how to matter to a region set to follow.