Chris Cline never forgot his upbringing in the West Virginia coal mines. As his business savvy made him a billionaire, he did not forget his hometown of Isaban, his home state or its people, especially children, in need.
Mr. Cline, 60, died Thursday in a helicopter crash off the coast of his private island Big Grand Bay in the Bahamas with his beloved daughter Kameron, 22. Five others were lost in the tragic accident.
Mr. Cline's grandfather and father were coal miners. As a child, he was digging dirt and filling bags for his father to use in packing blasting holes. He earned a penny a bag.
He went to work underground as a teenager. After leaving Marshall University early to help his father in a punch mine, the enterprising Mr. Cline borrowed money to buy the company's first continuous miner, an innovative improvement to coal production. He worked 16-hour shifts, seven days a week, month after month leading his crew, to pay it off. His big break came when he was able to buy an unprofitable mine for $1 million, improve its performance, and flip it for $17 million. One partner said, as quoted in Forbes, "He sees value in assets others overlook."
He'd found his calling.
He never stopped doubling down on deals.
His coal enterprises took him from Appalachia to Illinois to Canada. He offered cash incentives to his miners, installed advanced and safe mining equipment, and was ahead of his time in anticipating the market for coal. A mining engineer said, according to a Forbes magazine profile of Mr. Cline, "Those guys would run through a wall for him." Mr. Cline believed it was not enough to be innovative, you need a little luck. At Foresight, his four mine complexes were the most productive underground operations in the nation. He bought docks on the Mississippi River and built rail spurs to haul coal onto ships bound for India, Europe and Asia.
The boy from Isaban had become a man of the world.
Mr. Cline understood opponents of burning coal while defending coal and his role in supplying the world with it. He believed that people deserved the cheapest energy they could get. He had a curious mind, was eager to learn about everything and never stopped learning. As committed as he was to coal energy, for his Big Grand Cay property he installed solar panels and batteries. Where renewable energy sources made sense, he was eager to embrace them.
Upon learning of Mr. Cline's death, President Trump tweeted to 62 million people: "My greatest sympathies go out to the family and friends of great businessman and energy expert Chris Cline, his wonderful daughter, Kameron, and their friends, on the tragic accident which took place in the Bahamas. The great people of West Virginia will never forget them!"
As a reminder of the source of his wealth, Mr. Cline's first, battered hard hat is placed prominently above the fireplace of his Beckley mansion. At that house, he created a lake large enough for water skiing and a 400-foot water slide, built a go-kart track, and paint ball obstacle course. Though a billionaire, he never lost touch with the days that he lived in a single-wide trailer and used a blow dryer to thaw his water pipes.
Mr. Cline was generous with his philanthropy, publicly through the Cline Family Foundation, founded in 2009, but most importantly, privately, almost daily. The Foundation focuses on donations throughout West Virginia in recognition of the community's contribution to his success. It offers scholarships and grants, endows universities, and financially supports charitable organizations that make life better for children and older youth.
Among other donations, the Cline Family Foundation gave millions to West Virginia University, Marshall University, Place of Hope, a foster care and adoption organization; Peacehaven Community Farm, a home for disabled adults; orphanages in West Virginia and Haiti; Save the Children; humanitarian aid organizations in Tanzania; churches; and the Raleigh County YMCA, among other organizations, and many needy individuals over the years. He also supported The Benjamin School from which his daughter Kameron graduated in 2015. Few people beyond the recipients know details of Mr. Cline's many and constant personal acts of private charity.
He played as hard as he worked and was happiest in the company of his life-long friends and family. Mr. Cline kept close his friends from all phases of his life and regularly included them in his leisure activities.
Sharing his adventures with his four children and his lifelong friends was his particular pleasure. He would take crowds of friends and family to the Super Bowl, the Big East Tournament, myriad other sporting events, and on his frequent world travels. He loved the beach and nothing pleased him more than sharing good times at his homes and on his yacht. Mr. Cline was an adventure junkie whether it was driving fast cars or riding a four-wheeler like a banshee through the West Virginia hills. He had a good relationship with his money: he was willing to spend it.
He had his beloved Candice with his first wife, Sabrina, who tragically died of cancer in 1987. While divorced from his second wife of ten years, Kelly Cline Fama, in 2000, they shared three wonderful children, Logan, Tanner and Kameron, and a relationship of mutual respect for the rest of his life.
Mr. Cline often remarked that his children could not have better parents than Kelly and their step-dad, Phillip.
No matter what the demands of his business, Mr. Cline was devoted and committed to time with his children. In a statement, Mr. Cline's family said that he was "one of West Virginia's strongest sons, an American original, full of grit, integrity, intelligence, and humor." Of Mr. Cline's daughter Kameron, the family wrote that she was "a bright light to all who knew her, loving, smart, compassionate and full of joy and enthusiasm for life and other people." She graduated from Louisiana State University in May 2019 with a business degree and concentration in finance.
Her Benjamin School teachers wrote: "Kameron and the entire Cline family were all members of The Benjamin School community. Around campus, Kameron was known for her fun and upbeat personality. She joined the track team and excelled at the long jump, even qualifying for the state finals during her first year on the team. Kameron and classmate Brittney Searson shared a strong friendship; they were voted "Attached at the Hip" in their class superlatives." Ms. Searson died in the accident with her best friend.
Kameron graduated from The Benjamin School in May 2015.
Mr. Cline's survivors include a daughter, Candice Cline Kenan and her husband James Graham Kenan; two sons, Christopher Logan Cline and Alex Tanner Cline; and two brothers, Greg Cline and Kenneth Cline.
Kameron Cline's survivors include her mother and step-father, Kelly Cline Fama and Phillip George Fama of Mooresville, NC; a sister and brother-in-law, Candice Cline and James Graham Kenan; three brothers, Christopher Logan Cline, Alex Tanner Cline, and Ethan Phillip Fama. Grandparents who died before her are Casey Eugene and Sybial Maxine Cantrell of Clendenin, WV; Paul and Lassie Cline of Isaban, West Virginia; and step-grandparents George and Mary Ann Fama of Beckley.
In lieu of flowers, the family would appreciate gifts to either:
Powercross, (www.powercross.org) a ministry for student athletes, at 1133 West Front Street, Statesville, N.C., 28677.
YMCA of Beckley-Raleigh County (www.ymcaswv.com), 121 East Main Street, Beckley, West Virginia, 25801
A remembrance service will be held at the Raleigh County Armory at 200 Armory Drive, Beckley, West Virginia at 5 p.m. on Friday, July 12, 2019. All who wish to share our celebration of these wonderful lives are welcome to attend.