GILBERT - Due to an overflow audience, the funeral for James H. “Buck” Harless was streamed live from Gilbert Presbyterian Church to television screens that were set up in the banquet hall at the nearby Larry Joe Harless Community Center.
Viewing was held at the Harless Center in Gilbert on Saturday and funeral services were held Sunday afternoon at the Presbyterian church.
Following the burial, a reception was held at the Harless Center to celebrate the life of a man who lived a most fortunate life. An estimated 700 people gathered to pay their respects to 94-year-old “Buck” Harless, who died Jan. 1.
While there was mourning, there was a celebration of the life and achievements of Harless. Many spoke of his faith in God and of the friend he was to the state of West Virginia. He was also referred to as a legend, one who strived for the well-being of others and was dedicated to the future of young people and their education.
Harless was remembered as a committed man, committed to the state of West Virginia and especially the town of Gilbert. He is remembered as a man who was trustworthy and did everything he said he would do. He was an inspiration to many and, even after his passing, will continue to be an inspiration through the works that he left here on Earth.
Words of commendation were spoken by Gary White, who spoke for former president George W. Bush, and Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin was present to speak on behalf of himself and the state of West Virginia.
Bush wrote, “Laura and I send our heartfelt condolences to the family of Buck Harless. We know you’ll miss this good man, as will I. Buck was a straight shooter who spoke his mind and, in doing so, showed great love for our country. He lived the American Dream that rewards hard work and risk-taking and wanted others to have the same opportunity. Buck also understood that with success came the call to help others. He was a generous and compassionate soul, a giant in the coal business in his beloved West Virginia. I was fortunate to have been able to call this unique and kind man my friend.”
Tomblin said that it was an honor to speak at Harless’s funeral, but it was very difficult for him, as he had a heavy heart. He said Buck was a good friend and a mentor. He learned so much from him as they stood shoulder to shoulder on many issues that were immensely beneficial to this state, the governor said.
“Buck loved this state, especially this part, Gilbert. I will deeply miss his presence and his advice,” Tomblin said. Buck lived well and he lived long. He experienced great joy and great sorrow throughout his life; he believed that the greatest blessing came from giving.
“Through all of his accomplishments and success, Buck still remained a humble man,” the governor said.
Tomblin said one of the most important things to Buck was for the young people to know that success comes to those who work hard, take risks and properly prepare themselves.
“His roots are firmly planted in these hills, he is a true West Virginian and his big heart is here in Gilbert, West Virginia,” Tomblin said. He said Buck’s works will live on and on, they will live through the many gifts he has given to the community, churches, young people, those in need, schools and universities.
A poem, on the back of the funeral program, written by Will Allen Dromgoole and dedicated to Harless, reads as follows:
THE BRIDGE BUILDER
An old man, going a lone highway,
Came, at the evening, cold and gray.
To a chasm, vast and deep, and wide,
Through which was flowing a sullen tide.
The old man crossed in the twilight dim;
The sullen stream had no fears for him;
But he turned, when safe on the other side,
And built a bridge to span the tide.
“Old man,” said a fellow pilgrim, near,
“You are wasting strength with building here;
Your journey will end with the ending day;
You never again must pass this way;
You have crossed the chasm, deep and wide
Why build you the bridge at eventide?”
The builder lifted his old gray head;
“Good friend, in the path I have come, he said,
“There followeth after me today
A youth, whose feet must pass this way.
This chasm, that has been naught to me,
To that fair-haired youth may a pitfall be.
He, too, must cross in the twilight dim;
Good friend, I am building the bridge for him.”