A Life Lived: Kathleen Harmon was a firm believer in ‘hard work’

Published 8:29 am Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Kathleen B. Harmon was a firm believer in hard work. She often told her daughters when they wanted to sleep in, “You can sleep when you’re dead. You have to make hay when the sun shines.”

“We heard those words a lot,” said Kathleen’s daughter, Debbie Madgett, “but I’m thankful she instilled a good work ethic in us.”

Kathleen died April 2 at the age of 80, and hard work had always been a part of her daily agenda. It’s how Kathleen raised her three daughters after she and her husband divorced when they all were small.

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Kathleen was raised in the Poga community and she and her husband worked in the Christmas tree industry near the North Carolina-Tennessee line. “They planted trees, tended them, and my dad would cut the tips of the trees every so often so they would branch out bigger. He would bring the twigs home, and my mother with the help of a hand-held machine which she cranked would make Christmas roping out of the twigs to sell,” Debbie shared.

The couple also grew tobacco, which they took to Mountain City to sell in the fall. “Our house was always full of pine twigs and tobacco leaves,” said Debbie.

Kathleen and her husband also raised cabbage and a big garden each year, much of which they sold or shared with others.

“When my mother and daddy divorced, mother moved to Elizabethton with three little girls to raise. We never had much, so we didn’t want for much. We didn’t get all the thrills for Christmas when we were growing up — usually a bag of candy, a bag of fruit, and a coloring book, but looking back, I know we were blessed to have a loving mother to provide for us,” said Debbie.

Kathleen was able to get a cleaning job with Stacy’s Carpet. She cleaned at the local banks and East Tennessee Undergarment. “She enjoyed her work and through it met a lot people,” Debbie said.

Debbie shared that her mother enjoyed cooking, and often cooked for some of the people she met on her cleaning jobs. Her favorite meal to cook was soupbeans, fried potatoes, macaroni and cheese, and cornbread.

For a time the family lived in the Biltmore community. Kathleen later moved to Courtyard Apartments, where she shared her love for flowers with neighbors, who lived on either side of her. Some of her favorite flowers were “teardrops,” Christmas cactus, and aloe.

Growing up, Kathleen attended Piney Grove Church of Christ. After she moved to Elizabethton, she began attending First Christian Church and became a member. She worked in the nursery and after moving to the Courtyard, she would often go to the church and help her friend, Debbie Woods, with cleaning the church. “Everyday she walked with friends at the church. When it was cold, they walked inside. She loved her church family,” said Debbie.

When she became disabled and could no longer attend church, the highlight of her week was when the deacons from the church brought communion.

“My mother always put Christ first in her life. Her family came next. Pictures of her family and Bible verses covered the walls of her tiny apartment, bearing testament of who and what was important to her. My mother was very innovative and she was my inspiration. She taught me that if you have the want-to and work hard, you can be successful,” Debbie shared.

“My mother lived a long and good life. She put a lot of living and loving in her 80 years. I rarely heard her complain. She made the most of whatever life dished up for her.”

Kathleen Harmon learned the secret to happiness early in life… “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” Phil. 4:12-13