In spite of some increased oversight by the Environmental Protection Agency, mountaintop removal is still practiced in many parts of West Virginia, Virginia, Kentucky and Tennessee. After the coal is extracted, the mountains are sometimes replanted with trees or grass. Environmental advocates say that more than 500 mountains have been flattened by mountaintop removal, and more than 2,000 miles of streams have been buried in rubble.
Mr. Gibson said he turned down offers worth millions of dollars for his family’s ancestral land on Kayford. Instead, he set up a trust to preserve the property, including a family cemetery with gravestones dating to the 18th century.
“Why not let it go?” he said to a Virginia Tech class in 2004. “Because in that cemetery up there are buried members of my family as far back as the 1700s.”
Larry Lee Gibson was born March 5, 1946, in Kayford, W.Va. He was 7 when an older brother was struck and killed by a speeding drunk driver.
In 1957, his family moved to Cleveland, but young Mr. Gibson left school to find work when he was 13. He worked in auto factories in Ohio before taking early retirement after being injured in an industrial accident. He was 40 when he came back to West Virginia.
His first two marriages, to the former Carol Spangler and the former Sheila Crow, ended in divorce.
Survivors include his wife of four years, Carol Kirkpatrick Gibson of Charleston; two sons from his first marriage, Cameron Gibson of Jacksonville, Fla., and Larry Gibson Jr. of Charleston; a daughter from his second marriage, Victoria Gibson of Charleston; one sister; one brother; and five grandchildren.
For the past four years, Mr. Gibson divided his time between Charleston and Kayford Mountain. He was awkward when he first began to speak in public in the 1980s, but he soon became a powerful voice and was known to environmental advocates throughout the country.
“He’s so grounded in what is right,” said Janet Keating, executive director of the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition in Huntington, W.Va. “He’s such a compelling speaker. He’s authentic, he’s real.”
Victoria Gibson said her father was working on Kayford Mountain the day he died.
In the hospital, she said, “You could smell the freshness of that air that was still on him. The dirt was embedded in his fingernails. It was traced through every finger, every knuckle and every crease.”