BLUEFIELD — Art Riley was smoking a cigarette when he collapsed on the floor of his living room and was trying to breathe.
At that moment he realized he was having his second heart attack within a month, and he also made a decision that he would never smoke another cigarette.
He has recovered from that December 2018 heart attack, and has stuck completely to his decision to never smoke again.
Riley, a Bluefield businessman (owner of Landmark Antiques), president of the Downtown Merchants Association and often referred to as “Mr. Bluefield,” said he had been a smoker since he was 12-years-old.
At 87, that was about 74 years of smoking, usually two cartons a week.
“Almost everyone smoked (when he was growing up),” he said. “The first 30 or 40 years I smoked, people around me smoked.”
Riley said he knew the information about the health issues caused by smoking, but he was always healthy.
“I never paid any attention to it (health risks with smoking),” he said. “Doctors would always tell me I should quit, but also tell me my breathing was always good and my oxygen was good. It did not seem to affect me. it did not even occur to me to quit. I didn’t want to. I enjoyed it.”
Riley said he realized, though, that when he had his first heart attack smoking was most likely affecting his heart, and after the second heart attack, it may be a life or death situation going forward if he continued to smoke.
“I decided to quit,” he said. “I never picked up another cigarette and never wanted another one.”
Riley said he attributes his “cold turkey” quitting to a matter of desire.
“In my opinion, if you want to quit, you can quit,” he said. “No one can lead you to it, or brow beat you to it, unless you make up your mind you’re going to quit. Otherwise you will keep smoking.”
Riley said he knows smoking, like other things, affects different people in different ways and he can’t account for why it did not affect him for so many years.
“I am not proud or ashamed of it,” he said. “It’s just something I did in my life. And when I quit, I quit.
Regardless, he is happy he made the decision to quit.
“I don’t miss it,” he said. “And I save a hell of a lot money.”
Riley was referring to the cost of cigarettes, which was 10 cents a pack during his youth, and now it can be more than $5 a pack.
Since he has recovered from the heart attack, Riley is, as usual, back at work.
The Bluefield College graduate has been in various businesses over the years, from paper and janitorial supply businesses to antiques, and has always enjoyed working.
“I have been working since I was 12 years old,” he said, working in the summers at Bluefield Produce unloading box cars and at Mills Food Market. “I made $9 a week, working six days a week in the summer.”
That work ethic is not only instilled in him, he doesn’t know any other way.
“Ninety percent of the time, I can’t wait to get out of bed and go to work,” he said, adding that when he has been sick or incapacitated in any way, “I almost go nuts.”
Age has not impacted that attitude and work ethic as he still goes to work every day as well as stay involved in the city.
In fact, he is one of the organizers of the upcoming Bluefield Christmas Parade, as he has been for many years. He has also been involved in many other projects around the city, including the former Chicory Square Concert Series. At almost any city event, Riley is involved or attends, showing his support.
Riley is also a presence at city board meetings, and never hesitates to speak his mind, whether it’s approval or disapproval of what the board is doing.
He said that his involvement with city government started 30 years ago when he told his son, B.J., that he was not happy with something the city was doing.
“B.J. said, ‘Well, if you are upset, why don’t you go up (to the board meetings) and complain?’” Riley said.
That’s exactly what he did, and has been attending meetings ever since.
“Up until the time I got sick, I had missed only three meetings in 30 years,” he said. “I am back at it now.”
Riley said it’s not just a matter of complaining about things, he also lets board members and city leaders know when he agrees, and he also offers suggestions about what to do about problems.
An example of that is the recent closing of the Grant Street Bridge and its impact on residents on the north side of the city, who now have a more difficult time getting into town.
Riley suggested the Bluefield Area Transit (BAT) include a bus route in that area to help out residents.
But as in all decisions and suggestions, he also knows some work and some don’t.
“If it works, fine,” he said. “If it doesn’t work, it was not because I didn’t give it my best shot. I have always tried to give it my best shot.”
Riley, who has two sons and a daughter who have moved from the area, also realizes that everyone needs support.
For him, that’s his wife Teresa.
“I could not have survived without her,” he said.
— Contact Charles Boothe at email@example.com