From staff reports
OAK HILL —
Throughout the many paths of his life, from a once-homeless youngster to his standing at his death as one of the state’s most respected businessmen, Jim Lively, who passed away Feb. 5, touched countless lives.
Lively, whose family once became homeless after the coal mine closed that had employed his father, fought his way up of a rough childhood to become the first member of his family to graduate from college. After graduating from Montgomery High, Lively spent two years in the Navy and then attended West Virginia Tech where, in 1949, he was quarterback of the school’s only undefeated team in history.
On his death last week, a press release from WVU Tech expressed institutional sadness over the loss of the Hall of Famer and former Alumni of the Year.
After obtaining his master’s degree, Lively became a teacher and coach at Mount Hope High School where he met and married Loretta Ann Ferri, who was serving as a school secretary. Shortly after the couple’s first child was born, Lively realized he wasn’t going to be able to support his family as he wished on his salary as a teacher.
“If I was gonna raise a family, I didn’t want my wife to work outside the home while the children were growing,” Lively said in an interview a few years ago. “I could see the writing on the wall as far as pay.”
To that end, Lively followed a friend into the insurance business where, after five years in management, he decided to branch out on his own and start his own company. Jim Lively Insurance Co. last year celebrated its 50th year in business, and now boasts seven branches in West Virginia.
In order to satisfy a need to serve, Lively ran for a seat on the Fayette County Commission and ended up serving the county for 22 years as a member and president of the governing body.
Current Fayette County Commissioner John Lopez, who began serving on the Commission on Jan. 1, 1981, recalled Lively fondly.
“When I was first elected to the Commission, Jim was president at the time,” said Lopez. “Not being familiar with county government, he not only helped me with my position but also became a very close friend.
“Even after he left the Commission, we remained very close. Jim loved his family and was well-liked and respected by everyone. It was an honor to be his friend.”
Lively was remembered last week at the county Courthouse in Fayetteville as the flags, with permission of the governor, were flown at half-staff through Saturday evening in his honor.
Beyond his work on the county commission, Lively, who settled in Oak Hill with his family, was a guiding force in the growth of the community as a whole.
“He was one of the pioneers as far as business vision for Fayette County,” Sharon Cruikshank, executive director of the Fayette County Chamber of Commerce, said last week. “You could pretty much go to the bank on his advice.
“He was part of the group with Bud Hill and Roy Cruikshank who bought this land for the Chamber of Commerce,” she said from her office on Oyler Avenue.
“They had that vision way back when that (Route) 19 was really going to be built up.
“When you thought of business, you thought of Jim Lively. He was a great asset to the community as well as to the county. He will be greatly missed.”
Lively’s last big project, along with his wife, Loretta, was to spearhead the drive to construct an amphitheater in Oak Hill. The amphitheater at the corner of Main and Lewis streets and named in their honor, was constructed with funds raised primarily by the Livelys and now plays host to a number of community events.
Reflecting on his life in the earlier interview, Lively expressed a sense of satisfaction and fulfillment.
“I was blessed with a beautiful wife and a loving family and an opportunity to build my own business — these three blessings,” Lively said. “The Lord was along with us every step of the way.”
Lively is survived by his wife of 58 years, Loretta Ferri Lively; sons, James Lively Jr. and wife Cathy, Brett Lively and wife Twila, Michael Lively and wife Judy, and Dr. Matthew Lively and wife Lisa; grandchildren, Dr. Jamie Lively, Luke Lively, Jared Lively, Kathleen Lively; one great-grandchild, Ava Lively; and sisters, Cleo Lively, Birdie Stone and Loni Evans.
The Mass of Christian burial was held Saturday, Feb. 9, at Sts. Peter and Paul Catholic Church in Oak Hill. The family requests that expressions of sympathy be made to Sts. Peter and Paul Catholic School.