Coping with Grief
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I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith.
2 Timothy 4:7
David was one of three children (including his older sister Sandra and younger sister Diane) born to Warren Lee “Jib” and Doris Jane Harshbarger in Crawfordsville, Indiana shortly after the end of the Second World War. David grew up farming alongside his father and his uncle, Richard Gregory “Dick” Harshbarger. Time spent in the fields with his father and uncle did a great deal to shape David’s personality and, in particular, his willingness to work hard, weather adversity, and value family.
As a young man, David thrived both in and out of school. He was active in the Boy Scouts of America, eventually attaining the rank of Eagle Scout, and twice attending Philmont Scout Ranch in Cimarron, New Mexico, first as participant and then again as a counselor. In high school David was involved in a number of academic extracurricular activities including student council, president of the science club (“Up-N-Atom”), junior class play, and Boy’s State (held at Indiana University, in which students participated in a week of in-depth Civics studies). David was one of only two students from his high school class chosen, due to their particular interest in history, to visit Washington, D.C. and the United Nations in New York City.
David attended college at Rose Polytechnic Institute (now Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology) in Terre Haute, Indiana, where he graduated with a bachelor of science in civil engineering. During his time there he was a member of the Lambda Chi Alpha fraternity, serving as house manager, and later as the chapter’s president. Decades later, David would recall fondly the camaraderie and fellowship he experienced with his fraternity brothers, and what a positive role it played in his college experience. Despite his keen interest in mathematics, engineering, and science however, a summer spent working at the Indiana State Highway Department convinced David that his future lay elsewhere.
He was ultimately recruited out of school by Enjay Chemical Company (now ExxonMobil Chemicals) as a technical sales representative in its specialty division in Houston, Texas. Shortly thereafter, David was transferred to Carmi, Illinois, where James “Jim” Davis, a co-worker, introduced David to his niece, Victoria Susan Wilson, whom David married after a brief courtship. As it turned out, David’s ability to apply his education, critical thinking ability and interpersonal skills to the resolution of challenging customer problems was highly in demand, and David, Vickie, and their son Christopher Keith were transferred, first to Effingham, Illinois, and then back to Houston, Texas, where David and Vickie’s daughter, Breck Arlene, was born.
Within a little more than a year of settling in Houston, David, Vickie, and their new family were again transferred—this time to the island kingdom of Bahrain., just off the northeastern coast of Saudi Arabia in the Persian Gulf. There, as the only Americans in the country, David developed sales in the Middle East. Working from home but traveling frequently to call on customers in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, UAE, Libya, Iran, Oman, and Qatar, life in the austere posting was exciting (at times too much so, as the family once found itself stranded at the airport in Beirut under artillery fire during the outbreak of civil war in Lebanon and unable to fly out) but also difficult for a young family required to adapt to a radically different culture.
After three years David and his family moved back to Houston, where they settled in the suburb of Deer Park and became members of St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Pasadena, enjoying weekly fellowship in Christ and establishing lifelong friendships. During this time, David moved from Oil Field Chemicals Product Manager to Operations Department Head at the Houston Chemical Plant. But David’s success eventually resulted in the family being relocated to London, England, so that David could assume the role of Manager for Energy Chemicals in the Middle East, Africa and Western Europe.
As foreign postings go, England was much easier to adapt to than Bahrain. Yet, despite all that Great Britain and the nearby European continent had to offer in terms of history and culture (in which the entire family eagerly immersed itself), David remained busy and was often required to be away from his family, travelling even farther abroad, or back to the United States. David never returned empty-handed, however, bringing back tastes of home in the form of American food missed by the family, or thoughtful souvenirs from more exotic locations. The search for a new church home led to St. Mary’s, an Anglican church in Walton-on-Thames. Eventually another promotion brought David and his family back to the United States.
David and his family settled in Westport, Connecticut (a commuter suburb of New York City) so that David could work as a product executive in nearby Darien, just a short train ride home. While in Connecticut, David, Vickie, Chris and Breck became members of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church and continued their search for a permanent spiritual home. Connecticut offered the family a much-needed return to stateside living, and its proximity to so many sites of American historical significance provided the family with a cherished experience. Regardless, Houston still called to David and Vickie’s hearts.
Two more job assignments successfully completed, and David and his family were relocated to Houston permanently. Shortly after arriving, David and Vickie had their second daughter, Ashley Elizabeth, after realizing they weren’t quite ready to give up being active parents. The family also found its “forever” spiritual home at Palmer Memorial Episcopal Church, sinking the roots of their faith deeply into the community and glorifying God through joyful service and fellowship. Although the demands of work continued, a transition from chemical sales to safety and environmental affairs allowed David to spend less time traveling and more time in Houston where he truly relished having the time to spend with his family. Despite this change of pace, David continued to perform in the same exemplary fashion that characterized his entire career, ultimately earning industry-wide recognition for his work on worldwide ISO environmental standards.
During this time, David, Vickie and Ashley began to spend more of their time in Galveston—a place of peace and relaxation that they had always enjoyed—as part-time residents. In addition to the sun, surf, and swimming offered by the island, David found a tremendous amount of enjoyment serving on the HOA board of the Galvestonian condominiums, first as its treasurer and then as its president for three years. David and Vickie enjoyed much time in Galveston with their family and friends, including many new friends made at the Galvestonian. Condominium living in Galveston eventually convinced David and Vickie to move from their home in West University into the Warwick Towers Condominium in Houston.
Despite a shared lifetime of work, sacrifice, and family-rearing, David and Vickie’s journey toward a well-earned retirement together was interrupted by a cancer diagnosis for David. While it did not define David, it nonetheless became a regular fixture in his life, necessitating his early retirement from ExxonMobil after 35 eventful years. One of his greatest blessings during this time was the presence of Vickie’s younger sister, Elizabeth Ann “Libby” Wilson who had previously moved to Houston. Libby provided love and support to David, Vickie and her nieces and nephews during the long years of David’s illness.
Eventually David succumbed to complications related to his cancer, passing away at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center on Saturday, April 23rd. Although the cancer that troubled him for so many years ensured that he did not have an easy life, David nonetheless accepted the challenge with grace, humor, boundless love for his family, and a steadfast faith in God. Along with countless friends whose life David touched, he is mourned by his wife Victoria, his children Christopher (Lindsay Nicole), Breck, and Ashley (Cory Alan), his sisters Sandra (Dale) and Diane (Gary), numerous nieces and nephews, and his sister-in-law Elizabeth.
We pray that he may be joyfully reunited with those who have preceded him into God’s care, including in particular his father Warren, mother Doris, uncle Richard and all those whose lives touched his and made him the remarkable person he was.
A life lived bravely. A hurt felt deeply. A loss shared widely.