He was sincere about many things, but right up there at the top of the list were his family and children, then the children of other parents. And it showed.
Joseph Walter Harper III of Charlotte died Jan. 9, 2011, at Levine & Dickson Hospice House in Huntersville, just one day before his 80th birthday.
To his family and friends, he was known as “Jenard,” but to his wife, Mary, he was always just “Harper.” Daughters Delcia, Lisa and Jonette delighted in saying that although none was named Jesus, they were the children of “Joseph and Mary.”
Loved and respected by many
Joseph was drafted into the Army in 1952, his senior year at Johnson C. Smith University. He played clarinet and saxophone in the 49th Army band.
After his discharge, he came back to graduate in 1955. He was a member of Omega Psi Phi fraternity and had such close ties with it that about 200 fellow members attended his Jan. 15 service at the university.
“There were double lines all around,” said his wife, Mary. “We were really, really amazed. He loved his fraternity and had served as an officer in its sixth district. I don’t think he realized how many loved and respected him.”
Mary Turner was unimpressed when she first met her future husband at Livingstone College when his college choir presented a program there. Both got teaching jobs at Lincolnton (N.C.) High School and he reminded her that they had previously met.
Joseph’s honors included Coach of the Year in football in 1966 and for basketball in 1967. He was inducted into the Lincoln County Sports Hall of Fame in 2002 and was listed in “Who’s Who Among Black Americans.”
“We worked a split session in the early 1950s,” Mary said, “then the black schools closed for six weeks at cotton-picking time. We renewed our acquaintance and started dating in 1955. We married in June 1956 and had 54 and a half years together.”
Her husband also enjoyed classical music and especially old jazz songs such as “I’m in the Mood for Love” or “Give Me a Kiss to Build a Dream on.” He loved playing bridge and was a member of the Bridgeateers club, where he won several awards.
Joseph also taught at East Mecklenburg High School, where he was assistant principal from 1973 until his 1991 retirement. Former principal Leroy “Pop” Miller said, “Joe was a man of strength and integrity. I could not have been as successful if not for him. I asked if he would consider being my assistant principal and he said ‘yes.’ That was one of the greatest blessings God ever gave me.”
Daughter Lisa Harper said, “He always had a tough exterior, but he was really a softie.” He was always honest, she said. Well, except for the time when a young Lisa left an unsupervised pot on the stove. Her dad helped clean soot off the kitchen walls but told her mom only that, “Lisa and I did some early spring cleaning.”
Daughter Jonette Harper said, “Because we were daughters of the assistant principal, we couldn’t buy a date in Charlotte. Dad showed us how a young man should treat us by how he treated Mother. He was a gentleman’s gentleman, though he told it like it was. You had to have a tough skin to survive in this family.”
He stressed education in the family, Jonette said. “We have grandparents who have masters degrees.”
Daughter Delcia Harper-Baxter, a South Carolina school principal, said, “We had a lot of pressure to walk the straight line; he had high expectations of us. We learned that we were put on earth to do a mission, to serve others. He instilled in us the importance of doing more than what is required, especially as African-Americans. The greatest thing we have is our name, and how we treat others is most important.”
To teach his family and others such important life lessons, Joseph Harper was indeed a fine teacher and a wonderful life coach. His kind does not often come our way.
Editor’s note: This is our series called Lives That Matter. Written by Charlotte writer Gerry Hostetler, this weekly feature will profile individuals, recently deceased, who had a positive impact on those around them.
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