By Lyra Bordelon
The Greenbrier Valley has lost a crucial member of the community with the passing of Patricia Bartlett Church. As the town’s grant writer and post-2016 flood FEMA coordinator, Church was responsible for bringing funds and help to the community when it needed it most.
“She was a very thorough and forceful person,” said Andy Pendleton, former Rainelle mayor and friend to Church. “She knew exactly what I needed and what I wanted, she knew exactly how to put things in that I didn’t know how to. I don’t know if we’d ever be where we are as a town if it wasn’t for Pat. It’s going to be a hard adjustment. … She knew how to communicate to get things done, she knew how to write the right words for grant papers, the permissions, everything that needed to be done.”
Church is just one of the hundreds of thousands of victims of COVID-19 in the United States since the pandemic began – approximately 282,000 Americans have died of the disease as of Monday, Dec. 7, over 94 times the deaths that occurred on September 11, 2001. Since Church’s passing, Governor Jim Justice has continued to push for more individuals to wear masks until vaccines are available to the public.
“I’m surprised she got COVID and am overwhelmingly sad that it got the best of her, she was a strong leader and a strong person in the town of Rainelle, including when I was mayor,” Pendleton said. “She had become one of my best friends … even after I was mayor.”
Acting Mayor Bill Bell explained that filling her shoes for the town was going to be near impossible.
“She was incredible, she took time to mentor me,” Bell said. “She taught me a lot of stuff. … To be quite honest with you, she was one of our main cogs in our gear system. It’s going to be a tough transition. It’s just hard. … You don’t know how impactful you are to somebody’s life when you get in these positions we’re in. I had been telling Pat for the past three months – we sign up for elections here in January for who’s gonna run, … I told her, I, Bill Bell, am replaceable to the town … but she was not replaceable. [She’s] so valuable to our community. There are people you’ll meet in your life that are that way.”
Church and her sister, Twyla Diehl, were children of West Virginia despite moving from place to place as a child. One of the four children of Dale and Marge Bartlett, her parent’s military careers carried the siblings around the world, including some time in Germany before she turned six.
“Our father was in the military so we were army air force brats,” said Diehl with a laugh. “We moved a lot. Whenever we moved, she was always making friends easily and staying active. My mother was originally from West Virginia. She grew up on Patterson Mountain, near Springdale. She had gone into service when she got out of high school and our dad was from Minnesota. They met in California in the military. … He was a pilot. … He retired, got a job at the post office in Rainelle, … bought a home in Rainelle.”
Around 1963, the family moved back to Rainelle for a few years. A student at Meadow Bridge High School, Church had to complete her senior year in Florida after her father received a new assignment. Traveling would be something she continued to do as an adult, working for Mahle Industries as an executive, traveling the world working on quality control.
Later, Church worked for the Coal Heritage Foundation and eventually came on the Rainelle team thanks to Pendleton. Initially, her major role was to assist with the 2016 flood recovery efforts in town, coordinating with families and FEMA.
“[She] walked in the door [to Town Hall] and that’s when I needed her,” said Pendleton. “ I asked her to stay and help with the FEMA clean up and do all that we needed to do to fill out the paperwork. She was the resource we needed from the very beginning.”
She also served as the town’s grant writer. Recently, she was instrumental in helping the town secure $750,000 in grants from the state, which was celebrated with a press conference.
“Pat was our grant administrator, that was her key role,” said Bell. “She was very involved in [recovery] after the flood, … Slum and Blight, helped with putting people in the right direction for who they needed to contact. To put it in a nutshell, she was a wealth of information. … She helped get the grants – the day Governor Justice was here, right before the election, we were all up here with him. They had me quarantine too.”
Over the past month, Church was ill with COVID-19, Diehl and her family helped coordinate care and attempted to remain positive, but Church passed away on Dec. 1.
“You couldn’t come in to see her, you could only talk on the phone,” Diehl said. “I only came to drop some stuff off. They called a nurse to come and get it. I don’t even know if she got to open the bag because right after that they put her on the ventilator. It was just a roller coaster because one day she’d be feeling better then she’d go downhill.”
“She and I would get together every chance we got to have lunch or go shopping,” Diehl said. “A week before she got sick we had lunch and went shopping together. Last time I talked to her was right before they put her on the ventilator. She had asked me to bring her some stuff. … She said ‘they don’t have a clock in my room’ … I had a little portable, battery operated clock that I put in the bag, so she could see the time, and [when I spoke with her], she said ‘I feel so bad that I don’t even care what time it is.’”
Although a service is not planned, a candlelight vigil was originally planned for Friday, Dec. 4, to honor Church’s memory. However the vigil was not held due to weather. Diehl explained that mass gatherings, even good intentioned ones, weren’t something the family was planning to do during the pandemic.
“With COVID, we can’t really have a funeral,” Diehl said. “She wanted her ashes to go to her son in Tennessee. She had planned to go down to Tennessee for her birthday on November 20 … before she got sick. … She hadn’t seen them for a while.”
She is survived by her husband, Doug Church, son Wade Word, stepsons Mike Church, Jason Church, and Leslie Church, her siblings Diehl and Reney Bartlett, and many, many more.
Even as the Greenbrier County Health Department and the state of West Virginia attempt to control the virus, Diehl looks back on her time with her sister, remembering an incident the siblings would tease Church about.
“Pat was learning how to drive,” Diehl said. “We were up there visiting and she wanted to practice backing up, she always had trouble backing up to the day she passed away. We were out front, my cousin, Pat, and myself, and she started backing up. She started going over this little bank by the field near my grandmother’s house and I remember my mom yelling out ‘Why can’t you reach over there and step on the brakes?’’ and she said ‘I didn’t want to run over the hose!’ … We always used to tease her about her driving.”
Update 12/08/2020 – The town of Rainelle added an open letter to social media honoring Church:
As Rainelle is a small tight knit community many of you are aware of the passing of our beloved Mrs. Church last week on December 1st.
Pat Church occupied the position of grant administrator, joining our team in March of 2018. Pat came to us with vast, immeasurable business experience. She was a professional in all the tasks and projects she was involved in. Nothing was too big or too small for her attention and when it had her attention, she made things happen!
A wonderful mentor she was quick to share knowledge, tips, and contacts. Teaching us, keep pushing to attain our goal for the town and our community. If we didn’t hit our goal Pat was getting us as close as possible by beating every bush, shaking every tree, leaving no stone unturned. She knew our most powerful resource was our heart and our people. Pat wanted us all to participate in the betterment of the Town of Rainelle. She always saw the potential and believed we could make it happen.
Patience was not a strong suit for her nothing moved quickly enough, especially the scan to e-mail function on our all in one HP printer. The automated attendant answering service most government agencies have held a special place. lol
Pat Church was our friend. She cared about her coworkers outside of the office, asking about family, children, pets, and how you were doing. She genuinely cared for people. Helping was always her first instinct. Pat had life experience and wouldn’t shy away from telling you the truth, even when she knew you didn’t want to hear it. lol
Pat had a large family, the center of her foundation. She loved being everything, wife, mother, grandma, sister, always planning around special events. Taking time, looking for just the right thing for a special, meaningful gift. Cooking was something she enjoyed to do for her family. She would often come to work with a recipe she just threw together that we just had to try. Pat often spoke of cooking on her wood burning stove for her and her husband Doug. She enjoyed that little stove.
She also enjoyed reading, a good glass of wine, and staying up to date with what everyone was doing on Facebook. One of her favorite pastimes on FB was to check in on “Choco the Macho Chihuahua” Pat once said that she could be in the worst possible mood but Choco always got a smile out of her. He reminded Pat of her fur baby Wrangler. Wrangler was the apple of mommy Pats eye, she loved him with all her heart.
Pat had so much heart, grit, passion, and integrity in her character. We just wanted to express what a remarkable gift and blessing she was to everyone who loved her and to the community as a whole. Pat Church will be profoundly missed. WE LOVE YOU PAT.