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Eulogy for Lacy R. Harwell
Maximo Presbyterian Church
Sunday, March 21, 2004
The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me;
because the Lord hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek;
he hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
and the opening of the prison to them that are bound;
To proclaim ... the day of vengeance of our God;
to comfort all that mourn ...
'The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because the Lord hath anointed me to preach': I choose this famous passage from the Book of Isaiah not simply because it was Lacy's constant message, but because it embodies also his style: High rhetoric, larger than life, over-the-top; proclaiming the uncomfortable truth to all who would listen and many who would prefer not to; always with the poorest, least advantaged, most-in-need firmly in mind.
On behalf of Eckerd College, an institution he held to his oversized heart second only to this church, I bring affectionate and grateful greetings and a shared sense of gargantuan loss to Margaret and to each member of the Harwell family and this community.
Lacy served Eckerd College for 33 years as a trustee and unofficial but no less emphatic conscience. He served as Vice Chairman of the Board of Trustees in the mid-70s when Jack Eckerd was chair, and at one time he was on as many as seven Board committees. His frequent correspondence to then President Billy Wireman, whom he addressed as El Presidente, was signed Lacy R. Harwell, El Maximo!
He was indeed el maximo, in every encounter thinking and dreaming larger and grander than anyone else in the room. His aspirations for the College, like his aspirations for his community and his fellow man, were boundless. Every meeting, every lecture, every discussion was an opportunity for education, for growth, for intersection with the essentially human, the ultimately divine: "The Lord hath anointed me to preach good tidings'.
So much of his ministry was education, and he found opportunity for education everywhere. He must have found his hands full with Eckerd College, locked as it so often was in a daily battle with financial disaster and surrounded by conservative businessmen who had served in World War II and had little patience with the long-haired, socially disruptive students - and faculty - who showed up on campus.
He educated his fellow trustees and everyone else on campus and off the best he could for more than three decades right to the end, when he used his sudden without warning affliction to teach us all how to die. Just like him, always as contemporary as he was traditional, he used the latest educational technology of the Web as a teaching tool. Lacy believed that universal education was as fundamental to the Reformed Church as salvation by grace. He often quoted John Knox's doctrine, learned from Calvin, "In every parish a free school," which was the basis in Scotland for the first national free public school system.
When I pushed him to articulate for me the Presbyterian philosophy of education as he understood it, he wrote back this on email from South Carolina where he was fresh from, as he put it, "sowing seeds and killing sin in eastern North Carolina":
Presbyterians are best known for their doctrine of "total depravity," which means every one is a sinner and is never pure. (The great teacher of this in our time is Reinhold Niebuhr.) Even when we are at our best an underlying sinfulness is still there. Sin seeks power. Power tends to corrupt and absolute power tends to corrupt absolutely. Knowledge is power. Therefore, a Presbyterian philosophy for education requires that we be concerned with the uses of knowledge which means ethics and morals must be a part of a sound education.And, for my benefit, he added: "It is a major defense against hubris, the greatest temptation in the academy."
What extraordinary words from a man who had spent all day on a tractor. "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because the Lord hath anointed me to preach," and to teach, I would want to add, every waking hour of every day.
Near the end, I sent him, as a text for the times, for this final stage of his life, a verse well known to most of you, and him too, from "How Firm A Foundation," written in 1787:
When through fiery trials thy pathway shall lie,He wrote back, ever the teacher, this: "Thanks for the quote. I remember Ralph Vaughn Williams saying the text and tone of 'How Firm' were the finest in western hymnody. Aye, Lacy."
My grace, all sufficient, shall be thy supply;
The flame shall not hurt thee; I only design
Thy dross to consume, and thy gold to refine.
In the last few weeks, Lacy's friends and admirers at the College have raised over $50,000 to establish two endowed scholarships in his name to be awarded, in perpetuity, to young men and women who think they, too, may have been "anointed to preach good tidings unto the meek."
I see Lacy, in my mind's eye, as you must too, looming over pulpit and podium, as if it were a footstool, his big farmer's hands pounding and tearing the air, preaching and teaching with the passion of a prophet, a modern Isaiah, the Spirit of the Lord upon him, teaching us how to live and to serve and to die.
There is a hole in the heart of the Eckerd College community that will not soon be mended: Aye, Lacy.