Mining People Magazinewww.miningpeople.org
hen I met Bob
Murray during a
visit to his Illinois
operations in 2015,
he was there to talk to the
He’d scheduled meetings at
all of his mines, an exhausting
tour for a 75-year-old, driven by
a sincere desire to be present.
The workers he greeted – some
of them underground at the face of the
coal, on the roof bolters and the operating
longwall – were genuinely happy to shake
Robert Murray, the founder and longtime
leader of Murray Energy, died Oct. 25 at
the age of 80.
In life he was a controversial figure,
making his opinions known at the highest
levels of political power. But when he told
his story, it was always grounded in his
humble start and sincere gratitude for the
thousands of employees who helped him
build his coal mining empire.
“I live modestly, on a salary out of one
of the companies, and I put every penny
back into Murray Energy Corporation,” he
told me in an interview five years ago. “I
do work seven days a week. I’m blessed.
I want to play it out for whatever the Lord
sees in me. That, dear, is me.”
He was, at the time, putting together an
international deal – and talking about the
global future of coal.
Bob Murray’s rags-to-riches story began
in Appalachian Ohio, in a community
that did what it could to help his family
survive after his dad was paralyzed by
a mining accident. The kind of help that
made the biggest impression on him: the
opportunity to work to support his family.
As a boy he went to work on a lawnmower,
Character in Coal
mowing lawns well
past dark with the
help of a miner’s
cap lamp. When
he was 17, he lied
about his age and
went to work in the
a career in the
coal industry that
would span more
than 60 years.
He spent the first half of it working for
North American Coal Corporation, where
he quickly climbed the ladder, ultimately
serving as president and CEO.
In 1988 he started his company, Murray
Energy, and invested in the Illinois Basin,
which proved a worthy gamble. In the
years that followed, he helped pioneer
longwall mining and grew his business
to be the nation’s top underground miner
and largest private coal company.
When the political tide began to shift
against coal, he emerged as a vociferous
advocate, angering anti-coal detractors
while receiving praise within the industry
as he refused to keep quiet about the
livelihood of coal miners and the real-life
impact of rising electricity prices.
As his employment numbers dropped
by the thousands under the Obama
administration, he decried the unnatural
destructive power of a bureaucrat’s pen
and filed numerous lawsuits to challenge
federal policies in court.
“I’m not really an outspoken guy,” he
told me, “but on the subject of coal I am
outspoken because not enough people
are speaking up for coal, and I try to fill
Over the years I’ve seen the polished Bob
Murray, sharply dressed in a suit, giving
speeches on the issues that concerned
him. But the images that stick most are
the less polished ones.
Bob Murray bent over his paperwork:
To him, the work was never done, and
he considered that to be a virtue. Bob
Murray walking along the longwall as
comfortably as a boy in a sandbox, yet
forever carrying a glimmer of joy for the
sheer impressiveness of the massive
It was through a series of many long
days, many efforts of thought, and many
well-planned actions that he built his
At its peak, Murray Energy employed
more than 8,000 people across rural
America. Its operations supported tens of
thousands more jobs indirectly, and that
was how he measured his success: not
in billions earned but in jobs provided,
families fed, and communities nourished.
It wasn’t until the very end that he
thought it time for a break: He announced
his retirement from Murray Energy
Natural Resources just a few days before
he died. Sadly, even a life lived in sheer
determination could not cheat death.
The world has changed much since Bob
Murray first went to work in a coal mine
some 63 years ago. His individual success
stands in contrast to all the screaming
collectivism in today’s culture. No one
can dispute that he made an impact on
the world because of his willingness to
work hard, take calculated risks, and turn
wheat fields into coal mines.
“Don’t get discouraged,” he said.
He said he believed God guided all his
steps. If there’s coal in heaven, it’s a near
certainty that he’s working on a plan to
get it out of the ground.
Article and photos by Debra McCown