Members of the West Virginia University community joined other West Virginians in mourning the loss of James “Buck” Harless, a self-made millionaire from Mingo County and longtime supporter of WVU, who died Wednesday (Jan. 1) at age 94.
“In Buck Harless, West Virginia and West Virginia University has lost a giant,” WVU President E. Gordon Gee said. “Buck was a man committed to the state and to higher education, but most important was committed to the common person. He made everyone and everything around him better. And, in so doing, he made a difference in the lives of many people who had never had a chance to meet him.”
James W. Dailey II, chair of the WVU Board of Governors, said, “Buck was a champion for a lot of people throughout West Virginia and for the state. West Virginia has lost a fine gentleman and benefactor.”
At various times, Harless served on the Board of Governors, the University System of West Virginia Board of Trustees and WVU Board of Advisors, and as a trustee of the WVU Alumni Association’s Loyalty Permanent Endowment Fund.
He was currently serving as honorary chairman of A State of Minds: The Campaign for West Virginia’s University and as director emeritus of the WVU Foundation Board of Directors. He served on the Foundation board for 19 years and was its chair from 1982-1985.
“The West Virginia University Foundation and WVU have lost a great friend in James ‘Buck’ Harless,” said Lyn Dotson, WVU Foundation senior vice president for development. “His tremendous devotion and long-term support of the University are evident in the depth and breadth of his giving, as well as his leadership on numerous boards and committees. His philanthropic endeavors span the University from creating professorships and scholarships to supporting programs in health sciences, law and athletics. His legacy of generosity and helping others will live on for many, many years to come. Buck’s family and friends are in our thoughts and prayers.”
Christopher C. Colenda, chancellor of the Robert C. Byrd Health Sciences Center, said, “Buck Harless was a remarkable man who started his life with so little, and ended it as one of the most generous West Virginians we have ever known. He cared about the health of his community and recognized it as one of the most underserved areas of the state. He was a man of action and optimism and truly made a difference in his hometown, for WVU and for the entire state.”
One of Harless’ contributions stemmed from his work with Dr. John Brick, chair of the WVU Department of Neurology, and his twin brother, Dr. Jim Brick, rheumatologist and chair of the Department of Medicine.
WVU’s physicians began to travel to the town of Gilbert, in Mingo County, about seven years ago after the Bricks met with Harless, who established the Larry Joe Harless Community Center there. Because WVU has long specialized in rural healthcare, Harless wanted to see more healthcare providers in that area. The Brick brothers and their WVU cohorts now host clinics at the 55,000 square foot community center about every month.
“It’s the end of an era,” Jim Brick said. “Mr. Harless was perhaps the last of the great West Virginia coal and timber barons. He will be remembered by the things that he cared about. He loved his family and friends, his church, the little town of Gilbert, the Boy Scouts and giving back to West Virginia and WVU with his philanthropy, and even more importantly, with his time.”
His brother, John Brick, said, “Mr. Harless embodied the best characteristics of a successful businessman and servant to West Virginia. He inspired us and showed us over and over again how to make a difference.”
One of Harless’ most recent gifts was a $1 million contribution toward the building and renovation project at the College of Law. The gift will be used to create the John W. Fisher II Courtroom, in honor of Dean Emeritus John W. Fisher II.
“Buck was truly an exemplary supporter of the University, generous with his time, leadership talents, resources and became close friends with many, many of the University’s people,” Fisher said.
Positions Harless helped establish include the J.E. Brick Chair in Medicine, the J.F. Brick Chair in Neurology, the John W. Fisher II Professorship of Law and the James H. “Buck” and June Harless Professorship of Law.
Among his many honors are his induction into WVU’s Order of Vandalia and Mountain Honorary and being selected Most Loyal Mountaineer. Harless has been awarded honorary doctorates from several institutions of higher learning including WVU.
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