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Mining People Magazine

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

his hand.

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,

Bob Murray:

An Unforgettable

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

mines, beginning

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

that void.”

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

underground machinery.

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