Visitation and a celebration of life will be held Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings for Jim Webb, a well known humorist, author, poet, advocate and radio personality who died Oct. 22 at his home on Pine Mountain.
Webb’s property at Letcher Gap on US 119 South, called Wiley’s Last Resort, was known to many because of the metal flamingos that decorate the gates, and a stunning, multicolor sand cliff dubbed “Mars” that was once a quarry. Webb often hosted benefit concerts, rallies and parties at the property, and opened it to primitive camping in the woods, in two pre-Civil War cabins, and a fleet of aluminum Airstream trailers set along a rugged trail.
Webb was widely known for his long running Wednesday afternoon radio show on WMMT-FM, where he had been on the air since the station opened in the mid-1980s. The show was called “Ridin’ Around Listenin’ to the Radio with Wiley Quixote.”
Anna Kathryn Eagle, his longtime companion, said people who didn’t really know him think of him as a radio host. She prefers to think of him as a fierce advocate for the environment and the downtrodden.
“That was Jim Webb — hell-raiser,” said Eagle, who for the past 10 years lived with Webb in a log cabin built in the 1930s.
The cabin overlooks the small lake with a cut stone dam that Webb named “The Walled-In Pond.” Webb’s sense of humor skewed toward word play and puns, and is readily apparent as visitors travel the fourwheel drive trail that circles the nearly 100-acre compound that he called home. Wooden signs with names liked “Lester’s Flat,” “Tiger’s Woods” and “Faith Hill” are all around the woods, along with art installations made from found items, mostly junk collected while cleaning up the property, which was originally a mountain resort built nearly 90 years ago.
A large flat field built by the Kentucky Department of Highways in exchange for allowing it to rebuild US 119 through his property was site of many concerts and events. It is named New York, in honor of his brother, television announcer Robin Webb.
Eagle said Webb had double pneumonia and had refused to be put in the hospital, instead choosing to receive daily IV therapy for a week. When he didn’t recover, tests revealed advanced pancreatic cancer.
“It (pneumonia) just wipes you out, so we didn’t suspect cancer,” she said.
A Letcher County native, Webb was born September 24, 1945 in Jenkins to Watson Caudill Webb and Esther June (Salling) Webb. Watson Webb was a former superintendent of the Letcher County School System.
After the elder Webb left the Letcher County schools, Jim Webb spent much of his early childhood in Shadyshide, Ohio before returning to graduate from high school in Hazard. He took a BS in Biology from Berea College and an MA in English at Eastern Kentucky University where he co-founded the literary magazine RECK. He taught English and Appalachian Studies at Southern West Virginia Community College where, after the Great Central Appalachian Flood in 1977, he co-founded the Tug Valley Recovery Center to support relief and recovery efforts and he helped establish The Sandy New Era, the weekly newspaper where his commentaries under the pseudonym of “Wiley Quixote” first appeared.
It was during this time that Webb published the anthology Mucked, seen as a turning point in the nascent Appalachian Literary Renaissance.
Along with his brother, Robb Webb, they founded the literary journal Pine Mountain Sand & Gravel, now the official journal of the Southern Appalachian Writers Cooperative (SAWC) after his return to Whitesburg in 1984. His poem, “Get In, Jesus” is widely considered the most famous poem in Appalachia, widely distributed on T-shirts, a literary anthology and his collected poem of the same name. He authored the play Elmo’s Haven and his poetry was published in nearly every major literary journal in the region.
Jim was an ardent supporter of local artists, musicians, community activists and writers and a lifelong defender of the people and the mountains. He was active with the Southern Appalachian Writers’ Cooperative, Kentuckians for the Commonwealth, Appalachian Voices, the Appalachian Studies Association, Rotary Club, the Letcher County Tourism Board, the Right Angle and the Otis Campbell Society. He hosted the annual Pine Mountain Lawn Ornament & Pink Flamingo Soiree at his home atop Pine Mountain for 33 years.
In addition to Eagle, Webb is survived by his daughter Aerin (Eddie, Jr.) Ayers and grandson Riley Ayers of York, South Carolina; a brother Nelson Robinette (Robb) Webb (Pat De Rousie-Webb) of New York City, a niece Allison (Donald) Willcox, great nephew Michael Willcox and great niece Sara Willcox of Annandale, Virginia. He was preceded in death by his parents and his grandparents
Nelson Robinette (Catherine Spangler) Webb and Henry William (Lettie Webb) Salling.
Visitation with Webb’s friends and family will be from 5-8 Thursday night and Friday night at Heritage Kitchen on Main Street in Whitesburg. The restaurant will close Saturday night for pizza and a potluck celebration of his life from 5-10 p.m. Friends may bring a dish if they want.
Eagle said Webb asked that his ashes be sprinkled on Pine Mountain, which she will do at some point in the future.