Longtime Wood County lawmaker Frank Deem dies at age 90

West Virginia Legislative Photography, Perry Bennett Delegate Frank Deem, R-Wood, standing, speaks during a session of the 2017 Legislature. Deem, 90, died Wednesday morning.

PARKERSBURG — Delegate Frank Deem was a dedicated lawmaker who loved West Virginia, the Legislature and the legislative process, his colleagues said on Wednesday.

Deem, 90, who served in either the House of Delegates or Senate in every decade since the 1950s, died Wednesday morning at Camden Clark Medical Center. In addition to children and grandchildren, Deem is survived by his wife, Becky.

“He was a faithful servant of the people,” Delegate John Kelly, R-Wood, Deem’s colleague in the 10th Delegate District of Wood County, said.

A veteran of the U.S. Navy in World War II, Deem underwent hip surgery in February during the legislative session. He was injured in a fall, but told paramedics to give him a shot for the pain because he didn’t want to miss votes on several bills.

Deem, a Republican, was elected to the House of Delegates in 1954-62, was elected to the Senate 1964-1978, elected to the House in 1988 and elected to the Senate in 1994.

He was defeated in a re-election bid to the Senate by Democrat Keith Burdette in 1986. Burdette, who rose to be president of the Senate, was defeated by Deem for the Senate in 1994.

“While we didn’t always agree politically, I admire his service,” Burdette said.

The Legislature was a huge part of Deem’s life, Burdette said.

“I have huge respect for that,” he said.

Burdette was secretary of commerce under Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin and worked with Deem when Deem was in the House of Delegates.

“He was actually very supportive of what I was doing,” Burdette said.

Deem remained in the Senate until he was defeated in the 2010 Republican primary by David Nohe. Nohe, who resigned from the Senate to work for the state parole board and is now the assessor of Wood County, said he and Deem remained friends after the 2010 election.

“This will be quite a loss for the West Virginia Legislature,” Nohe said.

Deem will be missed, said Sen. Donna Boley, R-Pleasants.

“He did his homework,” she said.

Deem returned to the House of Delegates in the 2014 election.

Sen. Mike Azinger, R-Wood, served a term with Deem in the House and said Deem was like an 18-year-old when it came to the Legislature’s business.

“He knew more than everybody put together,” Azinger said.

Delegate Vernon Criss, R-Wood, of the 10th District called Deem a mentor. Deem gave his help and experience the first time Criss entered the House of Delegates 30 years ago.

Despite the physical problems, Deem was always knowledgeable of the subject matter, Criss said.

“He had a keen mind. Always informed. Always forward-thinking,” Criss said.

With the experience Deem had in the Legislature came the wisdom of those years, said 8th District Delegate Bill Anderson, R-Wood.

“Frank was an excellent legislator,” Anderson said.

Anderson first voted for Deem in 1972 by absentee ballot while he was stationed in Vietnam. Twenty years later, Anderson defeated Deem in a race for the newly redistricted 8th District.

“He has always been gracious with me,” Anderson said.

Numerous state representatives, including U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, released statements about Deem.

House Speaker Roger Hanshaw, R-Clay, and Senate President Mitch Carmichael, R-Jackson, issued statements on Wednesday.

“He was a statesman of the highest order, a proud Navy veteran and a tireless advocate for making West Virginia a great place to live, work and raise a family,” Carmichael said. “Our thoughts and prayers are with his wife Becky, and the entire Deem family, as they remember the life and legacy of a truly outstanding West Virginian.”

Deem has been “a fixture of West Virginia government” for more than 50 years, Hanshaw said,

“He left no opinion unstated, and was not afraid to tell you when he thought you were wrong,” Hanshaw said. “He had no tolerance for the gamesmanship that often clouds modern politics, and his direct, colorful floor speeches served to cut through the nonsense of many debates and earned him respect on both sides of the aisle.”

The state “lost a true public servant,” said House Minority Whip Mike Caputo, D-Marion.

“Frank was a friend and colleague for many years. I will miss his candor, his sense of humor and his love for our great state,” Caputo said. “My heart goes out to his wife, Becky, and to all those who had the privilege to know Frank.”

The Democratic Caucus in the House of Delegates extended its condolences to the Deem family.

“Frank possessed a wealth of institutional knowledge and was an outspoken public servant who steadfastly held to his beliefs even when they were not popular. Frank always spoke his mind — and legislators on both sides of the aisle listened when he spoke,” House Minority Leader Tim Miley, D-Kanawha, said. “Even if you did not agree with Frank, you respected him. It was an honor to serve with him in the House of Delegates. He will be missed by many at the Capitol.”

Senate Minority Leader Roman Prezioso, D-Marion, said Deem was a statesman who debated the issues and “made decisions from his heart.”

“I respected that about him, even when we disagreed,” Prezioso said.

Melody Potter, chairwoman of the West Virginia Republican Party, called Deem a leader in the Legislature.

“He strived to make our state a better place to live. We are thankful for his commitment to West Virginia families,” Potter said. “May God’s comfort and peace be with his family.”

Manchin, a former governor, said Deem “was a war horse with one of the strongest moral compasses I have ever known.”

“Frank didn’t care about whether you were a Democrat or a Republican. If something was right, it was right. If it was wrong, it was wrong. When Frank agreed with you he’d be your greatest supporter,” Manchin said. “But if he disagreed with you he’d sure let you know.”

Deem was in the oil and gas industry, among other businesses, and graduated from Mountain State Business College, West Virginia University and Marietta College. He is a member of the Farm Bureau, the Elks Club, the Chamber of Commerce, the American Legion, the Independent Oil and Gas Association, Rotary International and the First Presbyterian Church of Parkersburg.

He was a delegate to the Republican National Convention five times and received the Distinguished West Virginian Award, Oil and Gas Man of the Year award and an honorary degree through WVU-Parkersburg.

Despite representing a district with three delegates, Deem was opposed to multi-delegate districts and instead supported single-representatives districts.

A co-sponsor of House Bill 4002, which passed, to require the reapportionment and redistricting of the House districts after the 2020 census, Deem said a delegate’s record determines their chances in the election. Eventually adopted, HB 4002 will create 100 single-member districts in West Virginia.

“That’s why they were re-elected, not because they were in a single-member district,” Deem said, pointing to Anderson in the single-member 8th District. “Nobody will ever beat him, because he is popular in that single-member district.”