Harless -- who consistently opposed efforts by the United Mine Workers union to organize coal mining operations -- said union pickets had thrown rocks and stormed guard shacks at Hampden Coal Co., the non-union operation he owned in Mingo County. The union launched wildcat strikes to support coal miners striking against Pittston Coal, strikes that spread to mines in 10 states.
In 2000, Harless backed George W. Bush's Republican presidential campaign, helping him win West Virginia's five electoral votes in that close election.
In his analysis of the 2000 election, Wall Street Journal reporter Tom Hamburger wrote that a "coal-fired crusade helped bring Bush a crucial victory."
Hamburger wrote, "At 81 years old, Mr. Harless is the last of West Virginia's homegrown coal barons. Long a local kingmaker, he hadn't ventured into national politics much.
"But in April 1999, he crossed the narrow wooden bridge from his island home on the Guyandotte River to his helicopter pad, took a chopper to his private jet at the Charleston airport and flew to Austin, Texas, to meet then-Gov. Bush."
Campaigning done by Harless throughout the state's Southern coalfields, Hamburger wrote, helped Bush win West Virginia's critical five electoral votes, even though Democrat Al Gore won the state's three largest coal-producing counties.
In 2004, Harless served as finance chairman for Bush's re-election campaign in West Virginia. Bush appointed Harless to the U.S. Air Force Academy's Board of Visitors.
Harless was a member of the Massey Energy's board of directors between 2001 and 2005, where he served as chairman of the Public and Environmental Policy Committee.
State politicians and other leaders have praised Harless since his death.
Rep. Nick J. Rahall, D-W.Va., said, "In his long life, Buck Harless made many fortunes, but the one he prized the most was the fortune of friends he amassed throughout the years. He was as loyal a friend as they come to the families of Gilbert, Mingo County and West Virginia."
"Buck's concern for his fellow West Virginians was evident in efforts, whether through providing health-care resources for thousands, recreational programs for members of the community or the thousands of jobs he created as a businessman, made immeasurable contributions to communities in our state," said Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va.
Sen. Joe Manchin, D.W.Va., said, "I will always remember and admire Buck's passion to make West Virginia a better place to work and to live, and his contributions to our state, particularly to our coal industry, state education programs and Boy Scouts of America, will never be forgotten."
West Virginia Republican Party Chairman Conrad Lucas said Harless "was a true pioneer, leader, gentleman, statesman, philanthropist and a very committed West Virginian."
Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin said, "West Virginia has lost a leader in our state's business community. Buck was committed to the people of our great state and the community he was proud to call home. He will long be remembered. Joanne and I extend our heartfelt condolences to his wife, Hallie, his extended family and friends."
White said that, through all of the years of donating millions of dollars, Harless' focus on helping children get an education was still rooted in his poor Mingo County roots.
"Buck's primary focus was always children and education. He had a passion for underprivileged children. He was an orphan himself after his mother died of pneumonia when he was quite small," White said.
"He was going to the Children's Home Society in Charleston, when his aunt found out and brought him to Gilbert. He was always very sympathetic to needy people, especially needy children. He was a unique guy."
A public viewing is planned at the Larry Joe Harless Community Center in Gilbert between 3 and 8 p.m. Saturday. The funeral will be at Gilbert Presbyterian Church, where Harless was a longtime member, at 1 p.m. Sunday, followed by a celebration of his life at the community center at 2 p.m.
Donations in his memory may be made to the Larry Joe Harless Community Center Foundation at 202 Larry Joe Harless Drive, Gilbert, WV 25621.
Reach Paul J. Nyden at pjny...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5164.