This month we are paying tribute to Ken Hechler, a dedicated public servant and champion of coalmine safety reform who passed away on December 10 at the age of 102. As a West Virginia Congressman, Hechler was a leading proponent of the landmark Coal Mine Health and Safety Act of 1969 that was passed in the wake of the 1968 Farmington Mine Disaster. In this clip from a 1995 interview with filmmaker Herb E. Smith, Hechler recounts his memories of the Farmington widows who urged him to help stop future tragedies by passing legislation to improve mine safety standards. Their letters and testimony in Washington D.C. made a powerful impact on lawmakers and played a key role in pushing the bill through. Hechler also discusses the role of television in bringing the disaster to national attention and notes historical patterns of enacting social legislation only in the aftermath of tragic events.
Read more here about the life of the West Virginia public servant, writer, teacher and activist who shook the hand of Theodore Roosevelt, advised President Harry S. Truman, served for 18 years in Congress, and in 2009 was arrested during a protest of a WV coal sludge dam at the age of 94.