Paul S. Barbery
Mining and Minerals Engineering
Class of 1959, BS
Paul Barbery was in his sophomore year at Virginia Tech when his attention was diverted to mining engineering from civil engineering. The West Virginia native had a deceased father and little money for his college education. He needed funding. As a freshman, Mr. Barbery worked as a co-operative student, with a job at Norfolk & Western Railway in its engineering department. Then a new opportunity came along.
“I explained my being a co-op student at Tech to a friend’s father, who was in the mining business. He convinced me I should become a mining engineer because that would offer me a scholarship,” Mr. Barbery says. “So, after receiving a scholarship award and a promise of a job in the mines during school vacation and holiday periods, I switched to become a mining engineer, which I’m glad I did.”
The giants of the U.S. coal industry are glad Mr. Barbery did, too. Eternally so.
With that choice, Mr. Barbery would start a career that would take him to Pittston Coal Group, A.T. Massey, American Metals and Coal International Inc., National King Coal, and Asian-American Coal. He helped build some of those powerhouses. But all that came after Mr. Barbery’s first trip down a hole in the earth.
Fifty years later the coal giant still recalls his first trip inside a mine in rural Leatherwood, Kentucky. “I was very happy to go in,” he says. “I wanted to learn, to see what it was all about.”
After graduating in 1959, Mr. Barbery was employed as an industrial engineer by Jewel Ridge Coal Co., which provided him with the initial scholarship. Within a year, Jewell Ridge laid off the unit’s higher management. But Mr. Barbery befriended and followed one of the luckier managers up the chain to a mining subsidiary of A.T. Massey in West Virginia. Soon he found himself being promoted to head of the industrial engineering department. It was here that Mr. Barbery’s interest diverged and flourished.
“I wanted to be a more rounded person, to have the liberal arts, or the legal side, in addition to the coal side of it,” Mr. Barbery says. So he decided to attend the University of Richmond’s T.C. Williams School of Law, working during breaks at a power company in Richmond, Virginia. Money was tight, but Mr. Barbery had been used to that. “Everyone was in the same economic situation,” he adds.
Mr. Barbery graduated from law school in 1964 and joined the firm of Martin Hopkins & Lemon in Roanoke. His stardom rocketed. He made partner in three years, not the normal five. He worked not just on coal-related projects, but on all legal matters. One of his biggest cases came early, in 1969, with the Tennessee Forging Co., that included the largest U.S. Small Business Administration loan ever made at that time.
At Martin Hopkins, Mr. Barbery worked with future powerhouse attorneys. Among them is John Rocovich, a fellow Hokie who is now on the Virginia Tech Board of Visitors and widely known in Virginia political circles. Mr. Rocovich said he saw his friend as someone to look up to, including after Mr. Barbery left the firm to work as general counsel for Pittston Coal Group in 1974.
Some 35 years later, Mr. Rocovich still talks of Mr. Barbery as if the latter is a mentor, not just a friend. “He was extremely well-known in the coal industry, and his judgment was highly sought,” Mr. Rocovich says. “The things they say about him are the things you want someone to say about you when you finish up your career.”
At Pittston, Mr. Barbery oversaw how changing regulations would affect company operations, and ensured that the various subsidiaries stayed within legal mining rights. In 1975, though, his wife died of cancer, leaving behind a son for the widower to care for. He moved back to Roanoke, where he had family, to work as general counsel for Virginia Iron Coal & Coke. A little less than a year later, he took a job as general counsel and vice president at A.T. Massey and was later promoted to senior vice president.
He stayed at Massey for 18 years, overseeing corporate legal matters including coal land acquisitions and leases and other privately owned companies in the United States and later in South America and Australia, among other countries. Mr. Barbery also served as chairman of Elk Run Coal Co., a subsidiary of Massey, and served as an officer on several other subsidiaries in which Massey has interests.
In 1994, Mr. Barbery became senior vice president and general counsel for American Metals and Coal International Inc. He also held several top positions with company subsidiaries, such as president of National King in Colorado and vice president and senior vice president and general counsel of Asian American Coal Co., LLC, a company in which American held a financial interest. In the latter position, Mr. Barbery helped secure the first joint venture coal operation between a U.S.-based company and China, with site work focusing on the Shanxi Province. He served four years on the board of directors of Asian American, as well as that of the resulting Chinese joint-venture company, Shanxi Asian American Daning Energy Co., Ltd.
American sold its subsidiaries in 2003, and Mr. Barbery retired. Or, rather, he attempted retirement.
He soon joined the law firm of Bowles Rice in Charleston, West Virginia, and later served as vice president and general counsel of the Cline Resources Co., of Beckley, West Virginia. He often has been asked to consult on various legal matters and cases regarding coal and energy. “There are times when you have to go back and get involved in projects that you helped start,” he says.
Mr. Rocovich would like to see Mr. Barbery return to full-time legal work, even if the suggestion is partly in jest. “I always told him we would save him an office in case he changed his mind and wanted to come back,” he says, referring to his Roanoke-based law firm Moss & Rocovich Attorneys-at-Law P.C.
Mr. Barbery has remained an active Virginia Tech alumnus despite the busy career and his moving to the northern suburbs of Charlotte, North Carolina. He was named a distinguished alumnus of the mining and minerals engineering department in 1990, and served on the department’s advisory board a decade later.
“When I met Paul, he was working at A.T. Massey Coal and at that point he had a tremendous reputation as a person who had a grasp of technical problems and legal issues,” says Michael Karmis, the Stonie Barker Professor of Mining and Minerals Engineering. “Having that combined understanding was extremely valuable.”
Mr. Barbery also started a scholarship program for graduate students within the department. Greg Adel, professor and department head of minerals and mining education, adds: “It’s nice because it is for our graduate students at the start of their career. It helps people who may be struggling at the beginning of their education, when they need the help. It’s more an award for potential.”
Mr. Barbery said the selected students have done well, with a recent recipient currently designing a methane-leak warning system for coal miners. He adds, “That’s never been done before.”
And Mr. Barbery well knows about doing things never that have been done before.
Class of: 1959
Year Inducted into Academy: 2011