Though he died one day shy of his 61st birthday, Chris Cline packed a lot of living into those six decades. And though he’d made billions of dollars, his family and friends were what he valued most.
Cline died July 4 in a helicopter crash off the coast of his private island, Big Grand Cay in the Bahamas, with his beloved daughter Kameron, one of his best friends, David Jude, and four others.
The lives of Chris and Kameron, 22, were celebrated Friday in the Beckley-Raleigh County Convention Center.
Among the hundreds of people there to pay tribute to the Clines were Gov. Jim Justice and his wife Cathy, numerous business associates, and many who had worked for Cline at one time or another.
Greg White, former head basketball coach at Marshall University and assistant coach for the UCLA Bruins, said he first met Chris in junior high where they competed on the athletic field. White grew up in Mullens; Cline grew up in Brenton, just outside Pineville.
A few years later, when both were at Marshall University, they became close friends.
“We all have a set amount of time,” White said, adding that Chris had lived 500 years in his time on earth.
“The challenges he had. The adventures he had. He had an amazing life...
“There were so many amazing things he accomplished.”
Of the many hats he wore – entrepreneur, King of Coal, brother, friend, best friend – his real title, Dad, began the day he became a father to Candice, his oldest, White said.
“There’s a big difference between a father and a dad – Chris was a dad.”
White described Cline as a master of fear, bold, adventurous, a man who loved his family, loved to have fun, loved his challenges, loved helping people, loved big things and loved building big things to share with his family and friends.
“Chris was a big thinker,” he emphasized.
“He was always kind. That’s a gift he gave to his children.”
And, despite his unprecedented success, he never changed.
“He was a common guy,” White said.
“He was our first visitor after our twins were born,” Graham Kenan, his son-in-law, said.
When Candice asked him what the twins should call him, without hesitation, he replied, “Papa Bear.”
In the twins’ three years, Kenan said, Papa Bear had made a lasting impression.
“Letting them drive his Cat D6 will leave a lasting impression,” Kenan joked.
While Kameron could have had anything she wanted from the father she had wrapped around her little finger, it was time with family and friends that also mattered the most to her, Kenan emphasized.
“Though Chris could be selfish as everyone can, he was always selfless when it came to his children and his grandchildren.”
Kenan emphasized how proud Cline had been of his four children and the paths their lives had each taken.
“Chris Cline was one of West Virginia’s greatest sons,” Brian Glasser, his attorney for 20 years, said.
“It was impossible not to be touched by a flame that hot.”
In seven years, Cline’s Foresight Energy had grown to include six giant coal mines, four of which became the most productive on the planet; built 100 miles of railroad, a river dock, among other facilities, Glasser noted.
At its peak, the company was worth $2.6 billion, according to Forbes.
“Chris respected hard work. He always respected the miners...
“He did every dirty, dangerous, back-breaking, courageous job a coal miner could do,” Glasser said.
“Chris Cline was willing to fail.
“Chris never wallowed in failure. He kept his hands on the wheel, his foot on the accelerator, and his eyes on down the road.
“He was always building, always accelerating, always intensifying.
“He was always grateful to the long line of people who helped him to the pinnacle...
“The mold lies shattered on the floor,” Glasser said. “I see his soul, outlined in the white light of a supernova, hard hat in hand, walking toward the slope.”