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Bob-'n'-Along for Monday, September 21, 1998

"The 55 West Virginias" -- An important mini-history of the state

As a columnist, many interesting things come to my attention, including publications that pertain to the Mountain State. Not so long ago, I received a copy of a paperback publication titled "The 55 West Virginias -- A Guide to the State's Counties."

It was written by F. Lee North and this year is its second edition, containing updates from the first edition as well as the latest census figures.

On the front and back covers is a beautiful, panoramic color photograph of downtown Parsons, nestled in the mountains of Tucker County. On the inside front cover is a picture of the Capitol and a number of other buildings in Charleston. Historic Harpers Ferry is captured in a color photo on the inside back cover.

And, of course, on the inside pages are brief histories of each of the state's 55 counties, as well as black and white photos.

E. Lee North is also the author of "Redcoats, Redskins and Red-Eyed Monsters," which is a human interest history of West Virginia published by A.S. Barnes, Inc.

He also wrote "She Produces All-Americans," a history of football at his alma mater, Washington & Jefferson College, and a novel, "For This One Hour," which was set in Poland and Russia during World War II.

In addition, he was editor of the W & J undergraduate weekly, The Red and Black, for two years and a member of the History and Journalism national honor societies. And after serving as sports editor of the Washington (Pa.) Reporter and publicity director at W & J, North worked as editor and proposal manager at Grumman Aerospace for 37 years. He retired in 1989.

Two years later, North completed a history of the school's century of football (1890-1990), "Battling the Indians, Panthers and Nittany Lions," which includes much about West Virginia schools and players, as WVU was one of W & J's top opponents from the 1890s into the 1930s.

He co-authored two books -- "Chris, the Rhode Island Wonder Dog," with Jane Wyman, and "The History of Bay Shore (Long Island) High School Athletics," with Arthur Dromerhauser.

One feature of the publication was an author's tribute to the late Jim Comstock, long-time editor of the Hillbilly. In letter form to Comstock's widow, it was also undersigned by North's wife, Florence.

In it, he said:

"My heart grieves. West Virginia and the nation have lost a great man, a wonderful writer, and an accomplished historian. More, we have all lost a dear friend.

"Florence and I extend our sincere sympathies to all of you who knew Jim so well, and of course mostly to you, Ola -- so often referred to in Jim's loving way as the "poor wretch" who had to put up with him and his antics. And, of course, to all those of your and Jim's wonderful family."

The tribute continued:

"When I started work on a West Virginia history in the 1960s, Jim was right there with copies of the Hillbilly -- sent dozens of them to me and never asked for a cent. And what a source of history they were! Nothing can compare, not even the WV Historical Society bulletins, which seemed to come out whenever someone felt like it. Jim also offered any personal help he could give, and he was the one primarily responsible for our work that was published b A.S. Barnes -- ÔRedcoats, Redskins, and Red-Eyed Monsters' some 15 years ago."

After a few more paragraphs, North closed his tribute with these words:

"I'd not be surprised to see Jim's byline popping up again --I don't see how Heaven will be able to slow him down."

I will no doubt be using excerpts from North's reference material in future columns.