CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Most of the time, he's a calm, mild-mannered physician, a prominent Charleston gastroenterologist.
Sometimes, he turns into somebody else entirely. A king. A president. A Wild West hero. Whatever the character, he slides easily and believably into the role, dancing, singing and orating with all the finesse of a 3 seasoned Broadway star.
On Friday, Tim Harper opens a run with the Light Opera Guild as Horace Vandergelder in "Hello, Dolly!"
A community theater veteran, he once had his eye on a career in music, probably as a choral director. An epiphany intervened. It was a calling, he said, a spiritual message pulling him to medicine.
Everything goes back to diabetes, the disease he has managed for 53 years. Diabetes taught him discipline, kept him tranquil, composed.
On stage, he unleashes the emotion.
Through medicine and acting, he found the perfect fit.
"I grew up in South Charleston. My mother worked in the Legislature for Paul Kaufman, and she did teletype at the federal building. My dad was chief accountant at the post office, but we also ran a hardware store and he managed a drug store.
"We had Harper's Hardware on Bigley Avenue. On Saturdays, I threaded pipe and cut glass and sold nails and sold seed. We had a post office in the back and I sold money orders and stamps.
"We did a Christmas play in sixth grade at Montrose Elementary. That was the first time I was ever on the stage, and I enjoyed it. I was always musical. In the third grade, I started taking piano from Rev. John Newton, minister of music at the First Baptist Church in South Charleston. I took piano through ninth grade. I played tuba and baritone horn in the band.
"India Harris had a big influence on me. She was choral director at South Charleston Junior High. I was the ninth grade choral accompanist. I was playing piano more then.
"I played Scrooge in junior high in a production of 'Scrooge.' I think that's where I first got the bug. All through high school, I did Children's Theatre plays. I was Scrooge every year in high school.
"I first ran into Tom Murphy [former Kanawha Players director] in 10th grade, and he was another mentor through high school. So was Dave Stern with the school show choir.
"As I got toward the end of high school, I thought I would major in music, so I went to West Virginia Wesleyan as a music and history major. I ended up declaring in music and stayed in music until the end of my junior year when I made the big decision to switch.
"What got me thrown into medicine was, in the fourth grade, at 9 years old, I became a juvenile diabetic. I've been on insulin for 53 years. From age 9 on, I grew up around the hospital.
"Diabetes gave me a drive and made me very disciplined. I learned quickly to avoid sweets and I exercised. I never used it as an excuse. It just made me want to do more. In high school, I did everything. I was president of the Honor Society, president of the county student council and was an Eagle Scout.
"The Wesleyan Chorale went to Europe for eight weeks to celebrate the 200th anniversary of Methodism in Austria. When I got back, I had five weeks of summer left, and I needed a job.
"My endocrinologist, Steve Artz, asked if I wanted to work in his nuclear medicine lab at Charleston General. Two summers before that, I had worked as an orderly at Charleston Memorial. But I still hadn't decided on medicine.
"At the end of my junior year, I was planning to go to Southern Methodist University and work on a master's degree on choral conducting. I was sitting in the practice room one day and I thought, 'This isn't fun anymore. It's work.' That was the big a-ha moment.