Harless illustrated America’s promise

A social and political doctrine preaching that the United States is not really the nation of opportunity many of us were led to believe seems to be gaining popularity. It holds that without government’s help, the poor have no chance in life. It also indoctrinates young people to view the well-off as heartless thugs intent on preying on the less fortunate.

West Virginian James H. “Buck” Harless exposed those carefully cultivated stereotypes for what they are – divisive propaganda used by liberal politicians to expand their power over people they hope will view them as saviors.

Harless, 94, died Wednesday at his home in Gilbert.

Most West Virginians know little or nothing about Harless. That is unfortunate, though it reflects the low-key manner in which he lived his life.

Harless was born in the southern coalfields. After his mother died, he was raised by an aunt in Gilbert. He married his high school sweetheart and went to work in a coal mine.

After moving to the mining company’s engineering division, Harless bought part of a sawmill company, then acquired the other owners’ interests. By 1966 he had built a major timbering and sawmill operation.

Harless moved on to become a mining operator himself. Eventually, his timbering business expanded to other countries. At one time he imported more mahogany than anyone else in the United States.

Before he sold it in 2007, his International Industries company had interests in lumber and mining, and also manufacturing truck bodies and trailers.

In the process of becoming very, very rich, Harless stayed close to his roots. He never left Gilbert.

And he never forgot what it was like to need a helping hand.

Harless donated millions of dollars to worthy causes, including West Virginia and Marshall universities. He provided money for a beautiful community center in Gilbert.

But he did much more, quietly and with no notice beyond those he helped. A longtime associate said his private giving, to people such as those who needed help paying for college, probably exceeded that for which he received public credit.

Harless’ story is one President Barack Obama and his friends in Washington, D.C., should know about. It disproves the entire foundation of their political empire. And it shows what one can do in the United States of America – still a land of opportunity and compassion.