Harwell Barber

April 12, 1926February 22, 2014
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Harwell Barber, 87, Abilene businessman, philanthropist, and a man honored many times over by friends and colleagues, passed away Saturday, February 22, 2014 at his residence in Abilene. Funeral services will be 11:00a.m., Wednesday, February 26, 2014, at the Church of the Heavenly Rest, Episcopal under the direction of Elliott-Hamil Funeral Home, 5701 Hwy 277 South. Visitation will be Tuesday from 5:00 - 7:00 p.m. at the funeral home. Serving as Honorary pallbearers will be James Parker, Jim Alexander, Fred Lee Hughes, Jimmy Tittle, Bob Beckham, Jess Fletcher, and Gene Spires.

Born in Weatherford, TX to Clyde Clinton Barber and Rita Williams Barber, Harwell graduated from Abilene High School in 1943. After graduating from Abilene High, Harwell entered Texas A&M University in 1943, attended one year, and then enlisted in the U.S. Navy in 1944. He served in the Pacific Theater on the U.S.S. Prince William, a converted English aircraft carrier as a Yeoman 3rd Class. After his discharge in April 1946 from the Naval Air Corps, he attended Hardin-Simmons University and McMurry College. He then returned to Texas A&M, where he earned a bachelor of science degree in business administration in January 1949. He later was a member of the university’s Former Students Association and the 12th Man Foundation. Harwell married Carolyn Grisham of Abilene on July 8, 1950.

After earning his degree, Harwell joined Rita Barber, Inc., a tribute fashion business started by his mother, Rita Barber, after her husband died. With an infant son to care for, Rita Barber was working at a funeral home in Stamford when she realized the shrouds that people were buried in lacked style and beauty, so she began designing more attractive burial clothing, which caught on. Eventually she set out on her own, moved to Abilene, and formed her own business to design and distribute more fashionable burial clothing. Harwell often credited his mother with the values she instilled in him, including her refusal to cover for him when he played hooky from school to shoot pool in the basement of the Grace Hotel, which today is home of The Grace Museum.

Over the years, Harwell and Carolyn Barber became avid supporters of the Grace Museum. In return, the couple was honored at the Museum’s 2006 Fall Benefit. They were presented with a bronze sculpture titled “Sharing”, created by Nolan Kelley, a friend and fellow member of the Episcopal Church of the Heavenly Rest.

Harwell and Carolyn Barber are well known in many of Abilene’s civic and cultural affairs. In honor of Harwell’s contributions to the city, he was named the Outstanding Citizen of Abilene by the Chamber of Commerce in 1989. In 1998, the United Way of Abilene honored him with its Volunteer Service Award. Other honors included being selected Man of the Year by the Abilene Board of Realtors in 2000 and receiving the R.F. and Clara Brown Award for dedicated service and support to Sears Methodist Center in 1993.

Harwell’s uncompromising integrity, gentle decency, and tireless devotion to others were an example and comfort to his family, friends, and colleagues throughout his life. After he was named Outstanding Citizen of Abilene, the Abilene Reporter News noted in an editorial that when speaking of Harwell, people used words like “first-class guy”, “supportive”, “modest”, “gentle”, and “devoted”.

Among Harwell’s numerous community activities are service as former chairman of the board of the West Texas Rehabilitation Center and former chairman of the WTRC Foundation. He is former chairman of the Community Foundation of Abilene and past vice president of the Abilene Chamber of Commerce. Harwell served on the Abilene City Council from 1975 to 1977 and was mayor pro-tem in 1977. He served as president of the United Way of Abilene board of directors in 1967, president of the Abilene Council on Alcoholism, and served with the American Red Cross and Christ House day care center.

Other affiliations include the United States Chamber of Commerce, Abilene Philharmonic, Abilene Fine Arts Museum, Hendrick Home of Children, Abilene Masonic Lodge, the Nobles of the Mystic Shrine of North America, the Scottish Rite, and Suez Temple Shrine.

Harwell and Carolyn Barber are longtime members of the Episcopal Church of the Heavenly Rest, where Harwell was a member of the vestry, junior warden, trustee of the Church of the Heavenly Rest Foundation, chairman of the Every Member Canvas, and former member of the board of trustees of the Episcopal University of the South. He also served on the board of the Diocese of Northwest Texas Foundation.

Friends and acquaintances often cited Harwell and Carolyn Barber as true examples of people who lived their faith. As a man of faith, Harwell didn’t hesitate to share what he had with others, whether his time, talent, or resources.

Survivors include his wife, Carolyn; his children, Stephen Barber of Austin, and Callie Hampton and husband, Lee of Abilene; his grandchildren, Kade Reed Barber, Aven Grisham Barber, and Mary Caroline Hampton.

In lieu of flowers, the family requests that memorials be made in Harwell’s name to the Church of the Heavenly Rest, Episcopal, 602 Meander, Abilene, TX 79602 or to the charity of your choice.


Harwell Barber

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Charles Rader

April 22, 2014

Callie, Lee and family, you are in our thoughts and prayers as you continue on in the days ahead. Mr. Barber was always so pleasant to deal with. He and my father were friends for many years. God Bless you. Charles and Lacy Rader

Amy Alford

March 5, 2014

Although I never met Harwell, I am amazed at his accomplishments. I wish I had known him. I know that your heart is heavy and I am thinking of you and your family during this time.

Sherry Keen

March 1, 2014

What a sweet, precious man. I was honored to know him. My prayers are with you Carolyn, Stephen, Callie & Lee. Love,

Jane Carpenter

February 28, 2014

Condolences to Carolyn, Stephen, Callie and Lee. Harwell was a man who embraced all those he met with his warmth and gentility. He left an indelible mark on all of the lives he touched, making him truly unforgettable.

Tom Grisham

February 28, 2014

My vocabulary limits me from expressing what an influence Harwell had upon me from the time that I was old enough to think.

Not only was he close family, as to everyone, a truly great friend.

His cerebral humor was perceptible even to all of us even as kids.

To anyone who knew him, his genuine kindness and wisdom laid a benchmark for all of us to strive for.

Tom Grisham


February 27, 2014

A great man. Harwell and Carolyn are the best of the best. Abilene has lost one of its finest.

Patricia Crawford

February 26, 2014

To Carolyn, Stephen, Callie and Lee,
Our heart aches with you. We stand with you during this difficult time. He was such an inspiration and kind man. We love you so.
Your cousins, Patricia Crawford and Thomas Sims

Jim Lucas

February 26, 2014

What a great man. Our thoughts and prayers are with all of you. He was always the true gentleman of funeral service. Jim Lucas, Ft. Worth

Martha Passel

February 26, 2014

May the Lord bless you and keep you through this time.

Dorothy & Nathan Ivey

February 26, 2014

We join the many friends who share in your loss. What a blessing Harwell has been to all who knew him! He truly knew how to be a good citizen. The words of Shakespeare in JULIUS CAESAR describe him best: "His life was gentle and the elements so mixed in him that the whole world might stand up and say - THIS WAS A MAN."