Ninety four-year-old James "Buck" Harless has passed away. Harless was born in Gilbert, W.Va. in Mingo County and worked as a miner for the Red Jacket Coal Company for several years after high school.
He gave that up when he bought the Gilbert Lumber Company, and eventually grew it into the multi-million dollar conglomerate, International Industries. The company is based primarily in coal mining and timber, but also includes manufacturing, hotel and real estate industries.
Harless' philanthropy is felt throughout his home state and especially in his home town of Gilbert.
Cheryl Mitchem, Executive Director of the Joe Harless Community Center in Gilbert confirmed the death Thursday morning. The Center was founded by Harless in memory of his son who died in his 20's.
The James H. Harless Foundation has funded major projects at West Virginia University, Marshall University and countless other non-profits agencies and programs throughout the state.
Harless published his memoir, A Most Fortunate Life, in 2012.
West Virginia Republican Party Chairman Conrad Lewis in a statement called Harless a true pioneer, leader, gentleman, statesman, and philanthropist.
"Mr. Harless' dedication to our state was unmatched and his impact will continue to be felt for generations to come," said Lewis.
Sen. Jay Rockefeller expressed sympathies to Harless' family and noted the thousands of jobs Harless created in West Virginia, calling them "immeasurable contributions to communities in our state."
Sen. Joe Manchin called Harless a dear friend who lived an exceptional life. He cited Harless' contributions to industry, state education programs and the Boy Scouts of America.
Rep. Nick Rahall noted that while Harless made many fortunes, he prized his many friends the most.
"He was what we need more of in this world, a man of integrity, intellect, innovation and above all initiative. Buck could make things happen, and for the better," said Rahall.