William D. Kilgore, Jr.
Class of 1957, BS
William Kilgore was born in Stowe, West Virginia, in 1935 in a coal camp where his dad was a coal miner. In those days, the large mines had massive work forces, housed primarily by ethnic considerations. Workers did not own these homes. But the young Kilgore had good karma, and his lifestyle improved quickly.
When Kilgore was seven, his uncle, Thomas Pritchard, Class of 1923 at Virginia Tech, established a mine near Grundy, Virginia. Pritchard then offered Kilgoreʼs father employment as superintendent. The Kilgores moved to Virginia, and young Bill prospered in the family environment.
“My uncle had a big influence on me as I grew up. He lived a good lifestyle and had a strong work ethic and discipline. I was like a pseudo son to him,” Kilgore recalls. Pritchard offered to pay for Kilgoreʼs college education, and did not limit his choices. “He did tell me that Virginia Tech was pretty hard, so I looked at the University of Kentucky and Ohio State, but I chose Virginia Tech because it was closer to home and less expensive,” Kilgore says. “I worked at my uncleʼs coal mine during the summers while I was at Virginia Tech, as well as some weekends and holidays.”
At first, he enrolled in chemical engineering, thinking that he would get out of the coal mining business. But, he says, it didnʼt take him long to transfer back to a more familiar field in the Mining Engineering Department where the classes were small, and “the professors were practical people who had been around coal mines.” There were only six members in his senior class.
“Mining does get in your blood. Every day there are changes in the geologic conditions of the earth. There is new ground every day. And I saw my uncle as an entrepreneur, and I thought I would like to be one also,” Kilgore reminisces.
After graduation, he went to work for Jewell Ridge Coal Corporation of Tazewell, Virginia, another family-owned operation, which was eventually sold to The Pittston Company. He learned more of the basics of the mining operation, starting as a rodman on a survey crew and advancing to a transit man. He became a project engineer, serving Jewell in its construction of three coal preparation plants. Within four years, he was promoted to resident engineer of the Virginia Division, and, in 1962, promoted to chief engineer in charge of all engineering and coal preparation for the Jewell Ridge mines in Virginia, Kentucky, and West Virginia. By this time he was a registered professional engineer in these three states.
In 1963, Kilgoreʼs uncle, in poor health, asked him to return to his family business. He obliged his mentor and, at 28, became the General Manager and President of Margaret Ann Coal Corp., of Conway, Virginia. “My uncle died in September of 1964, and I managed the company until I could sell it. The market was bad, we did not have a large reserve base, and I did not want my Aunt Margaret to worry about the future of the mine. We sold the mine to a larger Ohio company,” Kilgore says. He then took care of his auntʼs finances until her death in 1987, and he continues to manage trust funds for his auntʼs sole surviving sister and a cousin.
After the sale of his family operation, Kilgore became the division engineer of Kentucky Carbon, which produced over a million tons of coal per year, a threefold increase over Margaret Ann Coal Corp. After three years, he was promoted to division manager where for five years his group averaged in excess of 25 tons of coal per payroll man per day.
He almost left the coal industry while working at Kentucky Carbon because the only fatalities that occurred during his 50-year management career with the mining industry happened during his administration of this company. Unique events took the lives of four miners, and to this day, if Kilgore gets a call in the middle of the night, he says he “clears the bed in a panic.”
Kilgore saw his way through these difficult times, moving around a number of times for the next 20 years. He followed Kentucky Carbon with six years at Carbon Industries of Charleston, West Virginia, as its Vice-President. In 1980, he spent a year as Vice-President of Coastal States Energy, Inc., of Houston, Texas. In October of 1981, he decided to become an independent consultant, assisting with several coal property acquisitions. After 16 months, he became the district manager for ChemLink, responsible for chemical sales to the coal industry in six states including Virginia.
Two years later, he rejoined the mining industry, becoming the mine manager for Enoxy Coal, Inc., of West Virginia. In less than a year, he was promoted to Vice-President and General Manager, responsible for all production, cost, safety, and environmental aspects of four major mine complexes producing over four million tons of coal annually.
In 1994, Kilgore decided it was past time for his entrepreneurial aspirations, after spending the five previous years as President, CEO, and Director of Agipcoal, USA. When Arch Minerals bought the company, Kilgore partnered with his long-time friend F.D. “Red” Robertson, also a Virginia Tech MinE graduate of Grundy, and James O. Bunn as the coal mine owners/operating partners of two mining complexes, Kanawha Eagle, LLC and Mossy Eagle, LLC. Robertson describes Kilgore as “one of the most outstanding mining engineers in the U.S.”
“Red and I go back to sixth grade together. When I managed Agipcoal, owned by the Italians, I had no one in this country to report to. So I would stop by his office weekly and bounce ideas off of him,” Kilgore recalls. The advice must have helped because Kilgore moved that company from a starting point of two and a half million tons of coal production with 100 million tons of reserve when he assumed the presidency to six and a half million tons of coal sales with 500 million tons in reserve. “I was able to manage it like an entrepreneur since it was not a public company. It made me happy that we accomplished such a growth. My only orders had been to keep the bottom line black. It was a challenging time.
“Now I am at Kanawha, (Mossy was sold in 1997) as part owner and that has been a personal success,” Kilgore smiles. Kilgore still retains the freedom to do more, and at the urging of Robertson and Bunn, he served double duty for part of this time, acting as Chairman and CEO of Anker Coal Group and Anker Energy Group, marketing some 10 million tons of coal annually between 1999 and 2002.
“I have had a long run doing a lot of things,” Kilgore says. “In my early years, I was not very involved with Virginia Tech, although I always followed its sports. In recent years, I have realized that my education was the springboard that got me started in the industry. Virginia Techʼs mining engineering program provided me with “knowledge, discipline, work ethic, and a base to go into the business world and be successful, provided I was willing to work. Itʼs always been a good program and now it is the largest in the U.S.,” he adds proudly.
Kilgore and his first wife had two children, William D. Kilgore III and Jennifer Carol Hollon, both of Maryville, Tennessee. With his second wife who died in a tragic car accident, he has a stepson, Ashley of Cumberland Gap, Tennessee. Kilgore has since remarried, and he and his wife Christa remain in Grundy. She has three sons from a former marriage.
Kilgoreʼs primary goal today is to make sure all of his five grandchildren have the means to go to college. “Someone did it for me, so why shouldnʼt I do it for them,” he says simply.
In addition, he is preparing for his Class of 57ʼs 50th reunion in the fall, and, as a member of the steering committee, he is assisting in the raising of a $750,000 class gift that will be earmarked for the new Arts Center, the Library, and the Highty Tighties of the Corps of Cadets.
Class of: 1957
Year Inducted into Academy: 2007