Ever think “what was the greatest thing before sliced bread?” Mrs. Mary Harmon could tell you.Belhaven’s legendary retired home economics professor just celebrated her 103rd birthday. This means Mrs. Harmon was growing up in Goodman, Miss. long before sliced bread was even invented (1928) or the creation of the Model T car—or even the discovery of Penicillin.
Mrs. Harmon, a member of the Legacy of Learning, began her Belhaven career in 1952, when Dr. Gillespie asked her to “finish out” a semester in the home economics department. This temporary position quickly turned into a 30-year career of which Mrs. Harmon says, “I loved every minute of it.” When asked what she taught, she answers without skipping a beat, “everything it takes to make life worthwhile.” Her love for home economics is still evident by the grace and hospitality she shows in her Jackson home today. Mrs. Harmon says she was drawn to home economics by her “love for beauty, progress, and family life.” Not only was family life an important aspect of her teaching, it is evident by her own life that she views family as foremost. Upon meeting her, it doesn’t take long to hear about her
love for her late husband, “T Carter” Harmon, and her daughter, Mary Parker Harmon Buckles, both of whom
she admires greatly.
Perhaps it’s also Mrs. Harmon’s sense of humor that kept her teaching home economics for so many years. She tells the story of a former student who called her up on Christmas morning wondering how to thaw and cook the turkey she had just pulled out of the freezer. Mrs. Harmon instructed her to do three things: put it back in the freezer, go out and find whatever she could, and save that turkey for next year!
In 1954, when the announcement was made that men would be entering Belhaven, Mrs. Harmon says she glibly remarked, “Oh, that won’t concern me”—only to have the very first man at Belhaven take her class! He wanted to become a buyer for the food service industry, and when he graduated, he got the job.
In her 103 years, Mrs. Harmon has faced many things—from the outlandish (finding a snake in the home economics dining room)—to the gut wrenching (watching her uncles and brothers leave on the train to serve in World War II). Through it all, she has developed an attitude that can only be described as selfless. From taking it upon herself to empty the swimming pool in the basement of Fitzhugh for more classroom space (they had to back trucks up to the windows…there was no “easy way” to empty the pool)—to putting most of her paycheck back into the home economics program—Mrs. Harmon truly has lived out the Belhaven motto, “to serve, not to be served.”
Her legacy continues through her students, who still use
her recipes and speak of her as “family.” Mrs. Diana Howie ’69
says that Mrs. Harmon was like a mother to her students, and today, she is like a great-grandmother to her students’ grandchildren! Just this past September, Mrs. Howie’s granddaughter, Caroline Grace Hodges, was the seventh child baptized in the baptismal gown sewn (by hand) by Mrs. Howie for Mrs. Harmon’s “Child Care and Clothing” class in 1968. Even 40 years later, Mrs. Howie says, “I find myself doing things in my home like we did them in the Home Economics ‘practice house’.” She adds, “Mrs. Harmon has impacted a lot of people through the years, and I am fortunate to be among them. She’s never been just a teacher to her students—she’s always been family.”
Mrs. Harmon, thank you for adding to the rich Belhaven heritage with your 30 years of diligence, grace, and perseverance. And in your own words of encouragement to Belhaven: “Keep on keeping on!” —MP