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Tributes Pour In For Mingo Businessman Harless

Reported: Jan. 2, 2014 11:28 AM EST
Updated: Jan. 2, 2014 11:40 PM EST
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GILBERT, W.Va. (Jeff Morris, Stefano DiPietrantonio) -- Mingo County businessman Buck Harless has died.

Harless, who was 94, was a coal and timber baron.

His death was confirmed Thursday by the Larry Joe Harless Center in Gilbert, a community fitness center that was established in his late son's honor.

He was head of International Industries, which focuses on coal mining and timber but also pursues other business interests such as manufacturing.

The West Virginia Coal Association paid tribute to Harless on Thursday with a message on its Facebook site.

"The Friends of Coal join in mourning the loss of James "Buck" Harless, a great man and philanthropist," the statement said.

Friends of Coal President Bill Raney shared his memories of Harless with Eyewitness News.

"He was such a great friend and such a super-sensitive mentor, so successful in business, yet so humble and helped so many people do so many things and never wanted any recognition for it," Raney said. "A man who truly could have lived anywhere in the world to live, yet he chose to live in his hometown and benefit it."

Raney said he didn't agree with the use of labels of "baron" or "tycoon" for Harless.

"I think those were thrown out by people who didn't know him and don't know him," Raney said. "You know he came from absolutely nothing."

Harless’ passing prompted tributes from political officials across the state.

“Buck Harless was a dear friend not only to me, but to all of West Virginia,” U.S. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., said in a statement. “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."

U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., weighed in as well.

“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,” Rockefeller said in a statement. “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.”

U.S. Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., praised Harless’ philanthropy.

“He was what we need more of in this world,” Rahall said in a statement. “A man integrity, intellect, innovation and, above all, initiative, Buck could make things happen and for the better. His entrepreneurism was one of sharp mind rivaled only by giving heart; this titan of industry proved time and again to be a gentle giant of generosity.”


U.S. Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., posted a tribute on Twitter.

“We lost a great West Virginian with the passing of James "Buck" Harless,” Capito said. “Our thoughts and prayers are with his friends and family.”

U.S. Rep. David McKinley, R-W.Va., offered his thoughts as well.

“Buck Harless was an icon and a self-made man who became a towering figure in business and philanthropy in WV,” McKinley said.

Harless was seen by many as a political kingmaker in West Virginia politics. A 2001 article in the Wall Street Journal largely credited him with helping George W. Bush win the state’s electoral votes in the prior year's presidential election.

West Virginia Republican Party Chair Conrad Lucas paid tribute to Harless.

“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,” Lucas said. “We will miss Mr. Harless's fighting spirit and lift up those closest to him in this difficult time.”

Harless began his career as a coal miner and worked his way up, eventually owning coal and timber operations. He built the Gilbert Lumber Co. into a multi-million-dollar conglomerate, International Industries, with holdings in timber, coal, hotels, real estate and manufacturing.

He was a prominent donor to many organizations, including West Virginia University and Marshall University.

Harless was elected to the West Virginia Coal Hall of Fame and the West Virginia Business Hall of Fame.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.



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