Bolton: They wove their way into our hearts

Associate EditorFebruary 18, 2010 

"If we are to achieve a richer culture, rich in contrasting values, we must recognize the whole gamut of human potentialities, and so weave a less arbitrary social fabric, one in which each diverse human gift will find a fitting place."

Margaret Mead

GOTTLIEB Jones Harvest literally and figuratively wove her way into the fabric of Columbia.

The seamstress and active church and community member touched the lives of many - from family to church members to students and beyond - in her 100 years of living. She died Feb. 8. Her family and friends remember her as one who was humble but with a strong spirit and a keen sense of humor and as a role model for wholesome living.

Gifted with artful hands passed on by her seamstress mother, this uncommon woman with an uncommon name worked magic with what would be formless cloth in the possession of common men.

As a teen in Hartsville, Mrs. Harvest taught her home economics teacher some techniques on the treadle machine. Her work on a yellow and black print dress was so impressive that it was displayed in a Coker's Department Store window.

She would move to New Jersey after high school and take a job in a dress-making factory. She became head of alterations at Gilbert Furs and later took an advanced tailoring course in the World Trade Center. She and a seamstress friend started a dressmaking business that prospered until she left Newark.

She moved to Columbia in 1955. She continued to sew, but an abiding interest in young people also led her to work as dormitory supervisor at Johnson C. Smith College in Charlotte, Friendship College in Rock Hill and Allen University and Benedict College in Columbia. Mrs. Havest, who retired in 1975, often made outfits for students at no charge to meet a need or as encouragement.

Her gift for sewing wasn't bound by age. She was in her 80s when she made an entire wedding party's dresses and also her grand-niece's lace wedding gown.

Mrs. Harvest worked on the American Cancer Society drive, was active in Edgewood Neighborhood Clubs and Jones McDonald Neighborhood Club and was a member of the S.C. Federated Women's Club and the Culture Club, a local branch of the National Council of Negro Women. She was a long-time member of Bethel A.M.E. Church in Columbia.

Mrs. Harvest was among a number of our fellow community members who died in recent months. Though their names appeared in newspaper obituaries, most were not well known. But all, in their own way, touched the lives of those around them. They not only helped weave the fabric of Columbia, but wove their way into the hearts of family, friends and those they helped along the way. And they'll be missed.

Mrs. Harvest's homegoing service was among the first handled by Palmer Memorial Chapel following the death of its president, E. Perry Palmer. Mr. Palmer was a pleasant, professional, distinguished gentleman. He was always encouraging, always focused on helping others.

The 74-year-old funeral director and civic activist, who died Feb. 3, devoted his time to the NAACP, the Indian Waters Council of the Boy Scouts of America, Children Unlimited Endowment Inc. and the National Youth Sports Program. He served on the board of the Columbia Urban League, the Salvation Army and the James R. Clark Sickle Cell Anemia Foundation. He sponsored youth sports teams and donated to scholarships. In 1998, he was named the United Way's "Humanitarian of the Year," the first African-American to receive the award. He was an active member of Wesley United Methodist Church.

When others would pontificate and posture in public, Mr. Palmer would convene private assemblies to discuss and iron out controversial issues. He's credited with working behind the scenes to lead many boards to stop meeting at private clubs that denied admission to black citizens.

It would be safe to say that Lelsie Arlen Cotter, who died Feb. 4 at age 80, was a cheerleader for all things Columbia, including his beloved alma mater, the University of South Carolina. I remember him from my days of covering Richland County. He was a developer, a public servant and an arts lover. He worked hard on the move of the Columbia Museum of Art from the crummy confines of its old Senate Street home years ago to downtown.

After a stint in the Army, the USC and Georgia Technical Institute graduate joined his father with Cotter and Co. building homes. He helped form the Home Builders Association and collaborated with others to develop Dutch Square Mall and the Gregg Park subdivision.

Mr. Cotter was a lifelong member of Washington Street United Methodist Church. He served on the Board of Visitors of Columbia College, the Board of Trustees of Converse College and the Board of Visitors of Washington and Lee University Reeves Center. He also served on government boards, including the Richland County Assessment Appeals Board and Central Midlands COATS Advisory Committee.

- The Rev. Hills H. Lloyd Norris died Dec. 8 at age 82. The Rev. Norris pastored numerous churches, was a prison chaplain and a Veterans Administration chaplain and did mission work abroad, including Japan and Africa. Among his efforts in the area of civil rights, he helped desegregate Columbia's lunch counters.

- Robert Emmet Ellison, 89, died Feb. 3. He was a veteran of World War II and was a retired partner of the Ellison Insurance Agency, who spent 40 years in the insurance business. He also was a seven-year member of the S.C. State Fire Commission.

- Kenneth Davis Sr. died Nov. 8 at 57. An Army veteran, he retired after 20 years of service at Sunbeam, Earthgrain Corp. and Sara Lee. The Booker T. Washington High graduate grew up in Edisto Court, where I also was reared. We were family.

- Rachel Huiett Williams, 56, died Feb. 10. Also a Booker T. Washington High School graduate whose family also lived in Edisto Court, she was a nurse/medical technician at Benzie T. Rice Home.

Margaret Mead, the late anthropologist, had a point. We all have a place when it comes to weaving the social fabric of our community. When even one of us makes the great transition, we should recognize their contributions, great or small. After all, we're one community with many members. Everyone counts.

Reach Mr. Bolton at (803) 771-8631 or wbolton@thestate.com.

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