GILBERT, W.Va. (AP) — West Virginia coal and timber magnate James “Buck” Harless, a prominent and generous benefactor to charities and universities in the state, has died. He was 94.
Sharon Murphy, his executive assistant, said Harless died at home in Gilbert on Wednesday night after a brief illness.
Harless worked as a coal miner before becoming part owner of a sawmill. He built the Gilbert Lumber Co. into a multimillion-dollar conglomerate, International Industries Inc., with holdings in timber, coal, hotels, real estate and manufacturing. He shared his wealth with organizations small and large, including Marshall University and West Virginia University.
One of his most recent gifts to WVU was $1 million toward a renovation project at the College of Law. He had served on several WVU boards, including the Board of Governors, and helped fund several academic positions in medicine and law. Because of Harless’ concern for rural health care, two members of the WVU medical faculty conduct semi-monthly clinics at a community center he established in Gilbert.
“Buck was a man committed to the state and to higher education, but most important was committed to the common person,” said WVU President E. Gordon Gee. “He made everyone and everything around him better.”
News of Harless’ death prompted a flurry of similar testimonials from West Virginia leaders.
“Buck’s impact on West Virginia was significant,” U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller said in a statement. “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.”
U.S. Rep. Nick Rahall said Harless amassed a fortune not only in money, but in friends.
“He was as loyal a friend as they come to the families of Gilbert, Mingo County and West Virginia,” Rahall said. “He was what we need more of in this world — a man of integrity, intellect, innovation and above all, initiative.”
Harless was elected to the West Virginia Coal Hall of Fame and the West Virginia Business Hall of Fame.