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Buck Harless, WV businessman and philanthropist, dies

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The State Journal file photo The State Journal file photo

One of West Virginia's most successful businessmen and most active philanthropists has died.

James H. "Buck" Harless died Wednesday night at age 94.

Harless, a Gilbert native, founded International Industries Inc. in 1947, and became a major entrepreneur with significant holdings in mining, timber and manufacturing. He was a member of the West Virginia Coal Hall of Fame, West Virginia Business Hall of Fame and was the 2006 recipient of The State Journal's Who's Who in West Virginia Business Lorenelle White Lifetime Achievement Award.

In his lifetime, Harless donated millions to the Mingo County community to provide local residents access to a community center that includes a movie theater, a swimming pool, exercise equipment, educational rooms and a community health center.

In addition to his philanthropic efforts in Mingo County, Harless also was a major supporter of the state's universities. He was one of the first contributors to Marshall's Society of Yeager Scholars. The university also is home to the Buck Harless Student Athlete Program and the June Harless Center for Rural Educational Research and Development. He served as a member of the West Virginia University System Board of Trustees, was past chair of Marshall University Board of Advisors, a member of the Marshall University Foundation Board and was a member and past chair of the West Virginia University Foundation Board.

A public viewing is scheduled from 3-8 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 4 at the Larry Joe Harless Community Center in Gilbert. The funeral service is planned for 1 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 5 at Gilbert Presbyterian Church with a celebration at 2 p.m. at the Larry Joe Harless Community Center. Evans Funeral Home of Chapmanville is handling the arrangements.


"Truly the rarest of the exceptional human beings who have graced our world, James H. ‘Buck' Harless was a devoted West Virginian who dedicated himself to making this state a better place to live, work and raise a family. He was renowned for his business acumen and esteemed by the elite and well-connected. He was a touchstone for political aspirants; however, it was the countless lives of everyday people he touched through his generosity, caring and willingness to share his wisdom that set him apart." – Marshall University President, Stephen J. Kopp


"Buck's impact on West Virginia was significant. He worked to make a better life for himself, his family and his community, and his efforts created jobs and opportunities for southern West Virginia. Buck's concern for his fellow West Virginians was evident in efforts, whether through providing health care resources for thousands, recreational programs for members of the community or the thousands of jobs he created as a businessman, made immeasurable contributions to communities in our state. I join with West Virginians everywhere in mourning the loss, and my prayers are with his family during this difficult time." - Sen. Jay Rockefeller, (D-W.Va.)

"Buck Harless was a dear friend not only to me, but to all of West Virginia. Gayle and I are deeply saddened to learn of his passing, and we extend our condolences to his wife Hallie, his entire family and to all of those who were touched by his exceptional life. I will always remember and admire Buck's passion to make West Virginia a better place to work and to live, and his contributions to our state, particularly to our coal industry, state education programs and Boy Scouts of America, will never be forgotten. Buck was, and will continue to be an inspiration to me and so many others in this state, and he will be deeply missed." - Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.)

"West Virginia has lost a leader in our state's business community with the passing of James 'Buck' Harless. Buck was committed to the people of our great state and the community he was proud to call home. He will long be remembered. Joanne and I extend our heartfelt condolences to his wife, Hallie, his extended family and friends." - W.Va. Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin

"In his long life, Buck Harless made many fortunes, but the one he prized the most was the fortune of friends he amassed throughout the years.  He was as loyal a friend as they come to the families of Gilbert, Mingo County and West Virginia.  He was what we need more of in this world, a man of integrity, intellect, innovation and above all, initiative.  Buck could make things happen, and for the better.  His entrepreneurism was one of a sharp mind, rivaled only by his giving heart; this titan of industry proved time and again to be a gentle giant of generosity.  My thoughts and prayers are with Hallie, his family and his countless friends." - U.S. Rep. Nick Rahall, (D-W.Va.)

"West Virginia has lost a giant. Buck Harless' generosity and philanthropy always will be remembered throughout West Virginia. My heart goes out to today to the family and friends of the man who gave so much of himself to others. Mr. Harless was a living legend who shared his successes with his local community, the state and the region without asking for anything in return. He was a true West Virginia success story and embodied the strength, determination and love for his neighbors that makes this state great." – Patrick Morrisey, West Virginia Attorney General

"Today we join our state in mourning the passing of James "Buck" Harless.  Mr. Harless was a true pioneer, leader, gentleman, statesman, philanthropist and a very committed West Virginian.  
Mr. Harless' dedication to our state was unmatched and his impact will continue to be felt for generations to come. Buck Harless was a true self-made American, who used his successes to leave us a legacy of jobs and philanthropy throughout the Mountain State. His generosity and wisdom helped ignite changes to West Virginia and national politics that will benefit this state for decades. We will miss Mr. Harless' fighting spirit and lift up those closest to him in this difficult time.
God bless our friend Buck Harless and may he rest in peace." – Conrad Lucas, West Virginia Republican Party Chairman

"In Buck Harless, West Virginia and West Virginia University has lost a giant. 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." - WVU President E. Gordon Gee

 "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." - James W. Dailey II, chair of the WVU Board of Governors

 "The West Virginia University Foundation and WVU have lost a great friend in James ‘Buck' Harless. 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."- Lyn Dotson, WVU Foundation senior vice president for development

"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." - Christopher C. Colenda, chancellor of the Robert C. Byrd Health Sciences Center

"It's the end of an era. 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." - Dr. John Brick, chair of the WVU Department of Neurology.

 "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." - Dr. Jim Brick, rheumatologist and chair of the WVU Department of Medicine.