The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

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June 11, 2013

Former W.Va. state senator Shirley Love recovering following heart surgery

CHARLESTON — Shirley Love, one of West Virginia’s more colorful politicians who launched his career as a broadcaster in his native Oak Hill, underwent open heart surgery late last month at Charleston Area Medical Center.

Love is recovering from a six-way bypass procedure at the hospital’s Memorial Division.

“Every day, we’re seeing some improvement,” his wife, Audrey, said Tuesday.

“We appreciate the prayers and concerns of the people. We’re looking for improvement and we expect him to recover.”

Love was a high school student when the owner of a radio station in Oak Hill heard him sing a hymn one Sunday in a church service and was so impressed with his voice he invited him to audition for an announcer’s job.

Initially, he was reluctant to try out, but eventually took the owner up on his invitation and the rest, as they say, is history.

Love ultimately moved into the fledgling television station WOAY-TV as an announcer and parlayed his creative skills into a number of local programs, once the mainstay of television in the 1950s.

Nothing captured the imagination — and attention — of the audience more than “Saturday Night Wrestlin’,” a wild and rambunctious show that made Love a household name across southern West Virginia.

The wrestling was “pre-arranged entertainment,” a disclaimer that preceded every show, meaning the athletes had decided ahead of time who won and who lost.

But the real draw proved to be Love’s between-matches interviews, when any inhibitions quickly evaporated. And that was an era in which there were no delays in the live broadcast. What folks spilled into Love’s mic went instantly on the air. Crude language was not uncommon.

Love never wrapped up a night of wrestling without a reminder that Sunday was a day of worship.

Yet, with the blue language still fresh in his mind from some of his salty-tongued interview subjects the night before, Love once recalled, “Sometimes I couldn’t look a preacher in the eye when I went outside to shake hands with him.”

More than once a viewer who regarded the matches as serious combat took matters into his own hands. Once, an elderly woman zeroed in on a “bad guy” in the dark trunks with a hatpin. Others smuggled in knives and pistols on occasion.

Love served 15 years in the West Virginia Senate, reflecting the conservative views of his 11th District constituents.

Late in his career, Love steered through the Legislature a bill known as “the Castle Doctrine,” giving homeowners liability protection if they resort to deadly force to protect their family and property. The bill was signed in a special ceremony by then-Gov. Joe Manchin.

Love didn’t limit his political activities to West Virginia, however, since he attended every National Democratic Convention in four decades, seeing America from coast-to-coast. At his first one, back in 1972, the colorful Love almost came to blows with some anti-Vietnam War protesters.

Before his Senate career ended, he was the subject of a biography titled “A Man Called Shirley.”

Love has remained popular with West Virginians, evidenced by the abundance of responses to Facebook postings on his medical updates by a daughter, Christie. Well-wishers may send cards to P.O. Box 601, Oak Hill, W.Va., 25901.

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