thompson

Delegate Ron Thompson’s seat remained vacant during the entire regular session of the 2007 W.Va. Legislature. Despite taking the oath of office during a private ceremony more than halfway through the schedule session, he never actually returned to public service before resigning later in the year.

For nearly half of last winter’s legislative session, Ron Thompson held the House of Delegates spellbound, even though he was nowhere to be seen in the chamber.

Thompson’s strange odyssey all began when the previous year’s session ended.

After that, the Raleigh County delegate dropped from sight, skipping every monthly interims session in 2006, and one month into spring, fellow House members began to take notice.

“Hey, where’s your buddy Ron?” many called out to a reporter assigned to the Legislature. “What’s going on with him, anyway?”

His fellow delegates in the hometown district were peppered with nearly identical queries.

As the 2006 general election drew near, The Register-Herald began to press the issue and the Beckley Democrat issued a simple statement: He was dealing with “personal issues” and would soon have them resolved.

They weren’t.

Thompson placed third in the five-seat 27th District contest, albeit he ran a low-profile campaign and spent little money.

When the swearing-in ceremony arrived, his seat was empty in the House chamber. Other newshounds picked up the scent of a story, and new House Speaker Rick Thompson — no relation to the missing Beckleyan — finally had enough and issued Thompson an ultimatum. Either show up by Jan. 25, fully two weeks after the swearing-in, or give him a reasonable explanation why he couldn’t.

Only silence came from Beckley, and the speaker decided to take Thompson’s protracted absence before the powerful Rules Committee.

Panelists voted to declare his seat vacant, but soon afterward, the silence was broken.

A letter arrived from Dr. Ahmed Faheem, a Beckley psychiatrist, explaining that Thompson was under his care, so the historic, full House vote on vacating his seat was rescinded.

In mid-February, Thompson yielded himself to an exclusive interview with The Register-Herald, accompanied by Faheem and a sister, in which it was revealed the 41-year-old lawmaker was suffering bipolar two, a condition of severe depression. Thompson never returned to his seat. Nor did he bother to collect his $15,000 pay.

In June, he sent word to this newspaper that he was “working my way back” to recovery and his position in the House, but one month later, Thompson decided to call it quits, saying his medical treatment for depression was taking much more time than he had anticipated.

“Therefore,” he said in a terse resignation statement, “I feel that is in the best interest of the constituents which I serve that I take such action.”

In the selection process, retired educator Louis Gall emerged as his successor, saying, “I do feel very honored.”

— E-mail: mannix@register-herald.com

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