CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Longtime Tucker County resident Chris Stadelman, who was recently named chief of staff to Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, hadn’t even been on the job for a day when the scope of the recent flooding was fully realized.
Stadelman, who previously was communications director for the governor’s office, was announced as chief of staff June 22. The flooding started June 23. Stadelman’s first day on the job was June 24. By then, southern West Virginia was a bona fide disaster area.
The governor’s entire staff responded quickly.
“It was something the entire staff immediately jumped in to see what was going on. We were quickly working with Homeland Security and the National Guard to assess the situation. It was certainly a very difficult situation and here I am, first day of the job,” Stadelman said.
Fortunately, Stadelman’s background as a journalist and also as a public relations consultant for many emergency service organizations helped prepare him for the overwhelming situation.
“It’s tragic. Certainly, people in Randolph, Tucker and Preston counties know what it’s like to be devastated. 1985 really is the landmark reference for flooding in that area. The governor has been all over the state and affected counties. Just hearing the stories of people’s lives and belongings being washed away is amazing, but so is hearing the amazing stories of heroism from groups like the National Guard and others doing things like swift-water rescues. We lost 23 people, but it could have been much worse,” he said.
Stadelman grew up in Moundsville, went to Marshall University and then interned at the Charleston Daily Mail, where he got on full-time and put in 10 years.
In 2004, he and his wife, Kelly, moved to Tucker County, where they purchased the Parsons Advocate, a newspaper they operated for 7 years. Stadelman also purchased the Phillips Group, a public relations firm, which the couple later merged with the Manahan Group.
“My background was always newspapers. Kelly was always interested in running her own business,” he said. “The part I always liked the best was connecting with people and being part of the community. Charleston was great for that but Tucker was even better. We got to know people and people were incredibly friendly and receptive.”
Going from working at a newspaper to owning one was a big change.
“It was certainly a learning curve. Kelly was great at handling the business side of things. I handled the journalism side of things. But as we got more involved, she did almost all of our photography and, certainly, a lot of writing as well. It was fun; we got to do a lot of things together. Probably our favorite thing to do was sports. We would do football, basketball and track. We got to know the kids. At on point, we probably knew all the high school kids better than we did their parents,” he said.
In 2011, Stadelman became communications director for the Tomblin campaign. He was named communications director for the governor’s office in May of 2014. He’s pleased to have the opportunity to serve as chief of staff until the governor leaves office.
“The entire time here has been fascinating,” he said. “Gov. Tomblin is a very easy man to work for. He loves to discuss the issues, and he loves to get feedback from folks. He’s given me the opportunity to be involved in the decision-making aspect of things. Even as communications director, he allowed me to stretch that role into something more than what would be a traditional communication director’s role.”
Though Stadelman’s job has an expiration date, he isn’t worried about the future. He plans to continue consulting as a public relations professional.
“Even that was attractive; you get in and make a difference without getting to the point to where you get burned out,” he said.
When asked about his next plan, Stadelman said, “The one thing we know we’re going to do is take six weeks off and spend it in Florida watching the Pirates’ spring training.”