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Longtime W.Va. agriculture chief Gus Douglass dies

Charleston Gazette photo courtesy West Virginia State Archives West Virginia Agriculture Commissioner Gus Douglass (with hat) joins then-Gov. Jay Rockefeller in admiring a goat at the West Virginia State Fair in 1978. Douglass, who worked with the state Department of Agriculture for a half-century, died Thursday at the age of 88.
Charleston Gazette photo courtesy West Virginia State Archives
West Virginia Agriculture Commissioner Gus Douglass (with hat) joins then-Gov. Jay Rockefeller in admiring a goat at the West Virginia State Fair in 1978. Douglass, who worked with the state Department of Agriculture for a half-century, died Thursday at the age of 88.

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Gus Douglass, West Virginia’s longest-serving agriculture commissioner, died Thursday at age 88 after a fall at his home in Mason County, his family announced the same day.

Douglass served as commissioner for 44 years, first winning election to the statewide office in 1964, and holding the office continuously through January 2013, except for a four-year gap when he unsuccessfully ran for governor in 1988.

“No other [statewide] officeholder has been elected as many times as I have,” Douglass, elected to 11 four-year terms, told legislators in 2012. He added, “I never planned to be in the political arena.”

Douglass said he somewhat reluctantly joined the department in 1957 as an assistant commissioner as a favor to then-Commissioner John T. Johnson. When he retired in 2013, after opting to not seek re-election in 2012, Douglass had been with the department for more than half of its then-101 year history.

During his tenure, Douglass grew the department from a small agency with a budget of less than $1 million to an entity with more than 350 employees statewide, and a budget of more than $55 million.

Douglass said one of this first acts as commissioner was to institute a state meat inspection program, in 1965, after being horrified by poor quality and potentially hazardous meat products being dumped into the state marketplace.

He said assuring the quality of the state’s food supply remained a priority throughout his career.

“It’s kind of scary. There’s only a seven-day supply of food in our cities,” he told legislators in 2012. “Folks, disrupt that and we are in a real problem…

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