Suffolk loses a legend, an icon

Published 6:22 pm Tuesday, December 10, 2019

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With the passing of John C. Harrell on Nov. 26, at the young age of 80, this city has lost an individual who, I quite frankly believe, will never be replaced or duplicated in any way, shape or form.

I say that with all sincerity after having known my friend for over six decades, having lived a couple doors down from his home in the late 1950s while growing up as a young kid, and then having the opportunity of serving on local boards and organizations with him after coming back home to Suffolk after college.

I have never met a man like John, and of the many who knew him, I’m guessing you also share my sentiments. Not only was he incredibly intelligent, he was without question, THE quickest, wittiest, funniest person I have ever known, and God blessed me beyond measure with his close friendship. He fought cancer for many years and fight he did! He was almost supernaturally resilient in that fight, and faced the various stages of the disease metastasizing throughout his body with uncanny courage, stamina, and fearlessness. This man never gave up and his close-knit family and friends supported him in infinite ways which demonstrated the love they had for him and John knew full well how blessed he was to have all that complete and total love.

I was personally blessed to share an hour or so with him a couple weeks before his passing, and he was “on top of his game.” He was obviously physically weak, but was quick-witted, funny, and had me crying I was laughing so hard on things he was saying. Again, the many of you who knew him, know precisely of what I speak. I didn’t know then it would be the last time I would see him in this life, but I am eternally grateful for having that hour with him and I let him know what he meant to me and what a mentor he had been to me for so many years.

The funeral that week at West End Baptist Church fully exemplified the love this whole region had for John. The service was literally standing room only, and good friend who is a member of the church told me he figured between 400 and 500 people attended. And I understand many people were not able to get inside. The hour was a service of celebration of John’s life with one of the two pastors reminding the audience that we must always remember that the genuine blessings that the Lord gives us are NOT necessarily material things, but instead are the people that He puts in our lives. THEY are the blessings that we should cherish and nurture as we go through this relatively short time on earth, and what a great Thanksgiving/Christmas message those words are that we should take to heart, and stamp that very fact on our souls.

John C. Harrell — my close friend, mentor, fellow Birdsong Trust Fund Trustee, fellow Rotarian, fellow First Citizen, and one for whom I had the utmost admiration and respect — was one of those “gifts” that God gave me over 60 years ago, and I look forward to seeing him again.

John, you made a difference in your community and the city where you lived. You were loved and highly respected by others, you loved your family and they loved you. As the Apostle Matthew wrote in the New Testament, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.” You made a huge difference in this city during your eight decades of life and you will be greatly missed, but never ever forgotten!

Billy Chorey