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W.Va. man advises would-be democrats internationally

November 07, 1999

By JULIE E. GREENE / Staff Writer

Photo by RICHARD T. MEAGHER / Staff Photographer


BEDINGTON, W.Va. - As vice president of an international democratic organization, Tom Melia has traveled all over the globe, met world leaders and helped troubled nations pursue democracy.

But it is West Virginia that has been on Melia's mind lately.

Melia and his wife, Amy Conroy, bought a home in the Bedington area about 18 months ago after falling in love with the Eastern Panhandle's countryside while taking their dog for walks in Harpers Ferry, W.Va.

While the couple still hold prominent political jobs in Washington, D.C. - where they live during the work week - they are trying to spend more time in their 150-year-old farmhouse on Whitings Neck Road and contribute to the local community.

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"One of the things we like about the Panhandle is it enables us to get connected to local American politics," said Melia, 42, vice president of the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs.

"We'd like to make our home here and bring back to the community some of what we've learned in our travels."

Melia's travels have included Yemen, Albania, Indonesia, Nigeria and Poland.

From 1986 to 1988 Melia worked for the AFL-CIO's international office, helping trade unions such as Solidarity get organized.

Since then Melia has worked for the National Democratic Institute, a nonpartisan group that provides information, training and political solidarity for democrats around the world.

Last month Melia went to Hungary to help advise Serbians on how to build democratic parties. Several democratic Serbian groups are trying to establish fair elections to challenge President Slobodan Milosevic of Yugoslavia's socialist party, which dominates the nation, he said.

"Ultimately fair elections can be held, and people of a country can choose their government and from time to time have an opportunity to change their government," Melia said.

Del. Vicki Douglas, D-Berkeley, said many people take for granted that we live in a democratic society that allows us to offer criticism and disagree with the government.

Douglas said she was "forced to look at our government and things we take for granted" during her visit to Northern Ireland last May to help advise legislators how to work together and conduct business in an open atmosphere.

Melia wants to see more West Virginians - politicians and citizens - get involved in international politics.

"There's lots of different ways in which people can get involved," he said. Among them are the Solidarity Center governed by AFL-CIO leadership and nationwide professional groups such as the American Bar Association, he said.

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