CHARLES TOWN – Decades after he completed a 22-year tenure as this city’s mayor, Dr. Donald C. “Doc” Master is being remembered as a caring, hard-working advocate for Charles Town.
The retired veterinarian and avid pilot died Tuesday at age 94.
[cleeng_content id="437245219" description="Read it now!" price="0.49" t="article"]“He was very, very effective as a leader,” Ranson Mayor Dave Hamill said. “He showed me how important personal relationships with your constituents and your friends are.”
“I’m going to miss him terribly … I wish I had gone to see him one more time.”
In his later years, Master made his home in Bakerton at Masterpeace, a bucolic mountain home with a commanding view of the countryside. Master had designed the home decades ago.
In an interview at Masterpeace last fall, Master reflected on his career and political service, which in the early 1980s generated controversy – and even landed him on “The Oprah Winfrey Show” and on and “Donahue” – saying: “I couldn’t have chosen a better life.”
He said he cherished his quiet time there with Carolyn Master, a longtime friend from Montgomery County, Md., who became his wife in 2006.
“He gave me so much love,” she said in an interview Tuesday. “I told him I would love him through this, and I did. He had everything that he wished for. I can be happy for that, and happy for him now.”
Carolyn Master said it pleases her to know that many of the then-controversial positions Master advocated as mayor now are being embraced as common-sense solutions.
In the 1980s, big-city drug woes had hit the Eastern Panhandle and Master thought one of the solutions could be found in ending the prohibition on marijuana and other drugs.
“He was a man ahead of his times in his philosophy and thoughts,” she said. “What he proposed 20 or 30 years ago is coming to fruition, that is, things like legalizing marijuana and treating addiction as a medical problem and not as a problem for prisons.”
In the October interview with the Spirit, Master defended the stances he took in the 1970s and 80s even as most other mayors unquestioningly backed the war against drugs.
“I thought then that it just makes sense to take away the profit motive – and of course that’s still the case,” he said. “Think of all the billions and billions we’ve spent [on the War Against Drugs].
“People who are addicted need treatment. For them, it’s a health issue.”
Master became active in politics as a way to give back to the United States. “He cared about serving the people,” Carolyn Master said.
Born on Halloween in a suburb of Toronto, Master was the youngest of five. He said he was deported for overstaying his visa in Chicago and later became a United States citizen.
He first came to West Virginia to work with farmers looking for expert help with artificial insemination in dairy cattle. His job took him across the Mountain State as well as to New Jersey and Pennsylvania. He said once he visited the Eastern Panhandle, he fell in love with the area and knew he wanted to make it his home.
He first sought office as a Democrat in the 1960s and remained close friends with many in the party even after becoming a registered Republican.
Over the years, he met and worked with political icons both liberal and conservative, including then-California Gov. Ronald Reagan, Jimmy Carter’s Vice President Walter Mondale and New York Mayor John Lindsay.
“When I started, things were not as antagonistic as they are now,” he said in October. “I don’t know if I’d want to be in politics now.”
Master’s tenure in the mayor’s office delivered important advances in infrastructure. He described himself as particularly proud of his work on the city’s sewer system, the construction of the Charles Town bypass and of persuading City Council to begin using the Shenandoah River to supply water to Charles Town.
After his defeat for re-election in the spring of 1990, Master seemed to understand voters’ desire for fresh leadership.
He noted that he’d defeated 20-year mayor Nick Carson on a platform of “It’s time for a change.” The fact that his opponent used the same sentiment to end his political career to a close was “ironic,” Master said after that vote.
A doting grandfather and proud father of four, Master celebrated his 80th birthday by flying in a plane he built himself. To mark his 90th, his children and officials at Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races held a community reception for him and even named a race in his honor – the Old Gray Mayor.
Peggy Smith, who has served as Charles Town’s mayor since 2005, said Master left quite a legacy for Charles Town’s leaders – and that his passing leaves a void that’s “tremendous.”
“He was a great mayor who served this town very well for 22 years,” Smith said.
Hamill, who, like Master, grew up in Canada, said he cherishes time spent with Master. “We had emotional ties to our original home and our new home, but we never forgot where we came from,” he said. “When we would ride together in the Christmas parades, the adulation that he received from the spectators on the streets was somewhat overwhelming for me.”
Master remained in the public spotlight even in his 90s.
Just last year, Master was honored by the West Virginia Municipal League – the 44-year-old nonprofit association representing more than 200 cities, towns and villages in the Mountain State – for his “service and commitment to Charles Town, its citizens and the advancement of municipal government in West Virginia.”
Master’s name has been placed on a plaque on permanent display at the League’s headquarters in Charleston.
“He had such a wonderful and prolific and long and generous life,” Carolyn Master said Tuesday. “He did so many good things. He always stayed true to himself.”
“He was a generous, kind person and a servant of God.”[/cleeng_content]