by BILL ARCHER
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
One of Mercer County’s most long-serving and dedicated public officials, Joe Coburn, died late Wednesday night at his home in Athens after suffering a lengthy illness. Coburn was 81, and still serving the people on the Mercer County Commission at the time of his death.
“In recent years, and after he became very sick, what really impressed me most about Joe was the way he fulfilled his commitment to the people who elected him,” Tony Whitlow said. “I was at the courthouse and watched someone help him get out of a vehicle when he was coming to a commission meeting.
“I could tell that it was difficult for him, and I knew it must have been very painful, but still he came to the office to serve the people of Mercer County,” Whitlow said. “I admired that in Joe. I admired it a great deal.”
Coburn was born and raised in Mercer County and lived in Athens. “I think he started out as a town cop in Athens,” Bill Blankenship, his long time friend said. “He was in the Army and served during the Korean War. I think he and his brother were in Korea at the same time.”
Coburn went to Concord University for three years, and served as a Mercer County deputy sheriff in 1959. He later became chief of police in Athens. In 1972, Coburn ran for and was elected to the Mercer County Court — later Commission — served two six-year terms and became a tax coordinator for the state treasurer’s office, according to Whitlow.
“Joe was a good friend to everybody,” Blankenship said. “He never met a stranger. He didn’t just know people in Mercer County. He knew people throughout the state. He got along with everybody. I’m sure he had his political enemies out there, but he never held a grudge and always tried to work with others.”
Although they had been friends for several years, Blankenship said he learned a lot about his compassionate side when he served as assessor. “He always tried to help the elected officials. He helped the people who cast votes, and he also helped the county employees of every department,” Blankenship said. “Joe will be missed.”
Coburn returned to the county commission in 1996 and was re-elected in 2002 and 2008. “Through the years, I got along with Joe in about everything he did,” Whitlow said.
“Joe loved serving the people, but he also loved sports,” Blankenship said. “He was a real fan. He went to high school football and basketball games, Concord sports and probably went to Mountaineer games years ago. He was a great fan.”
Commissioner Gene Buckner knew his commission colleague as both “a devoted public servant,” as well as being “someone with a lot of knowledge about how things get done.”
“He knew a lot about how things work in county government,” Buckner said. “We will miss him a great deal.”
Mike Vinciguerra, also of the Mercer County Commission, said that he has known Coburn for about 30 years, but has only had the honor of serving with him during the past three years. “Joe was a tremendous friend and a tremendous asset to Mercer County,” Vinciguerra said. “People liked Joe, and Joe really liked people. He was a tremendous public servant.
“We’re all sad that he’s gone, but he had been suffering for quite a while,” Vinciguerra said.
Seaver Funeral Home of Princeton is serving Coburn’s family.
— Contact Bill Archer at email@example.com