Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

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November 2, 2007

Region laments passing of entrepreneur ‘Smiley’ Ratliff

TAZEWELL, Va. — People throughout the coalfields were shocked this week when they learned of the passing of one of the region’s best known and most colorful individuals, Arthur M. “Smiley” Ratliff Jr. Ratliff, 83, of Tazewell, died Oct. 31, in a Kingsport, Tenn. hospital.

“We thought he would live forever,” Sam Varney of Vansant, Va., said. “I think the entire region is in a state of shock. It’s a void that will be there forever. We’ll miss Smiley in so many ways.”

Ratliff was truly a Renaissance Man who was proud of his Buchanan County and Southwest Virginia heritage and equally proud of his humble origins. “He would say he was a poor, ignorant hillbilly out of Slate Creek,” Varney said. “He had an analytical mind and a photographic memory. He could remember anything. If he had a goal in mind and set out to do something, he would do it.”

Ratliff was a gifted athlete in his teens, and helped organize the Hurley High School football program in 1951. “I played fullback for him in the 1952, ‘53, and ‘54 seasons,” Varney said. “He was a tough disciplinarian. He had a blood and guts philosophy. He said the best defense against a passing team was to pound the quarterback. He was a genius in football. He was a genius in everything he did.”

Ratliff received 19 medals for his service during World War II and the Korean War, including the Bronze Star he received for capturing a machine gun nest in Korea in 1950. He received the United Nations Service Medal, the World War II Victory Medal and two Purple Hearts.

In addition to his love of sports, Ratliff was a teacher, a successful businessman and an author. After leaving the Hurley football program, he entered the coal mining business in 1955, founded the Miners and Merchants Bank of Grundy, the First Bank and Trust of Lebanon, the Big Stone Gap Bank and Trust.

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