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Lanny Shortridge, who worked for years in a Virginia coal mine, dreamed he could do more one day; the Fredericksburg lawyer is now doing just that
By ROB HEDELT
WHEN FALMOUTH'S Lanny Shortridge graduated from high school in the Southwest Virginia community of Grundy in 1973, it was clear what came next.
With no money for his dream of college and only one shot at a living wage, the middle son of hard-working parents signed on with Island Creek Coal Co. at its deep-shaft mine in nearby Oakwood.
Had the veteran coal miners not taken him under their wing, Shortridge--and others like him--might not have survived.
One day, they were in high school and the open spaces, taking things like daylight and healthy air for granted.
The next, they were miles underground, crawling about in spaces too tight to stand.
Daylight was an extravagance on weekends. Constant companions were fear and the kind of prayer that keeps you alive.
"It was a huge operation, more than 400 miners," said Shortridge. "Accidents and fatalities were a constant reality. Fires, explosions and rock falls were real threats, because the mining produced so much methane gas."
Soon enough, the young man reached a terrifying truth.
"I realized that if I stayed in the mine, I was going to die in an accident or develop black-lung disease," he said. "It wasn't a question of if, but of when."
Precise and direct thinking, the same kind Shortridge--one of Fredericksburg's newest attorneys--practices these days in his city law office.
Thanks to an elected position in the mine that began a career track with the United Mine Workers Union, Shortridge is a success story fueled by equal parts of hard work and bigger dreams.
It all started in 1979, after six years in the mine, when he was elected to represent 4,000 union members in labor disputes.
Overnight, his days changed from working alongside explosives and wall-collapsing mining equipment to talking to fellow miners in an office, topside.
Having a respect for the miners and a knowledge of the way things worked in the mines, Shortridge did well in his new job.
It eventually led to a different type of career in the '80s and '90s, as Shortridge advanced through a series of UMW jobs, administering everything from grievances to retirement and training funds.