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Berkeley County loses 'faithful and dedicated public servant'

Longtime Commissioner Robert L. 'Bob' Burkhart died Tuesday

July 25, 2013|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD | matthewu@herald-mail.com
  • Robert L. "Bob" Burkhart, who served a total of more than 30 years on the county commission and as the county's circuit clerk, died Tuesday. He was 85.
Herald-Mail file photo

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — Longtime Berkeley County Commissioner Robert L. “Bob” Burkhart had an “encyclopedic” knowledge of county government, was exceptionally fair and a faithful friend, county officials said Thursday.

Burkhart, who served a total of more than 30 years on the county commission and as the county’s circuit clerk, died Tuesday. He was 85.

“There was only one Bobby Burkhart,” said Circuit Clerk Virginia M. Sine, who served under Burkhart after he was appointed in 1986 to the elected office she now holds.

A staunch Democrat, Burkhart served on the county commission from 1963 to 1985 and then from 1996 to 2002. Burkhart was appointed circuit clerk in 1986, and served on a number of public boards and community organizations as well.

“He was a faithful and dedicated public servant,” said longtime County Clerk John W. Small Jr.  “He’d go out of his way to reach out and help somebody.”

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Small, who considered Burkhart to be a close family friend, said they last saw each other June 13 at a flag-pole dedication ceremony at the historic courthouse honoring Small for his more than 50 years of public service. Small said they reminisced about old times that day.

“We had our ups and downs on the court, but we always settled (our differences) and always spoke the next day,” said Small, who turned 80 on Wednesday.

The county commission was originally known as the county court and was more recently renamed the county council when it was expanded from three to five members.

Small said Burkhart’s passing represents a great loss to the county because of the great memory he had.

“I used to tell him when he went off the commission that we needed him to come back as a consultant just to do election canvassing, because this man forgot more about election canvassing than other people knew,’ County Administrative Officer Deborah Hammond said.

“I mean when election canvassing was taking place, he was in his element, it was bing, bang, boom, this is how we do it.”

“He knew the law backwards and forwards,” Hammond said.

Sine said she knew Burkhart all her life and remembered he was “a very fair boss,” when she served as his chief deputy circuit clerk.

Burkhart knew a lot of people, not just in Berkeley County, but all across the state, Democrats and Republicans alike, Small and Hammond said.

State Democratic leaders who visited Berkeley County were sure to meet with Burkhart, who never missed county association meetings, Hammond said.

Among many honors and recognition, Burkhart was named a Distinguished West Virginian by Gov. Joe Manchin.

County council President Anthony J. “Tony” Petrucci, who called for a moment of silence at Thursday’s regular meeting in honor of Burkhart, said the late commissioner was “a driving force” on many county issues and in the Democratic Party.

Burkhart’s approach with people was “to the point, no nonsense,” Petrucci said.

“He didn’t always agree, but he would listen to you and move on,” he said.

Petrucci said he believes Burkhart’s fiscally conservative position was appreciated by the taxpayers and was an underlying reason for his success.

Aside from his years in elected office, Burkhart was a founding member of the airport authority that oversees Shepherd Field.

He also served on the Berkeley County Fire Board, Eastern Panhandle Transit Authority, Berkeley County Board of Health Board and several other community organizations, including Tuscarora Ruritan Club where he was a charter member.

“Bobby put a lot of dedicated service into the airport and the health department,” Small said.
Burkhart only resigned from the health board last month.

Small recalled Burkhart calling bingo numbers for him many years ago when he was president of Ryneal Fire Co.

Born in Martinsburg, on Dec. 19, 1927, Burkhart was the son of the late Allen S. and Margaret S. Burkhart. He is survived by his wife of 63 years, Jean E. Haas Burkhart, and their five children.

Burkhart graduated from Martinsburg High School in 1945 and entered the Army Air Corps upon graduation.

A memorial Mass will be celebrated at 11 a.m. Saturday at Brown Funeral Home’s South Berkeley Chapel in Inwood, W.Va.

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