Jim Harrell, 83, author of the civil war novel, Their Last Ten Miles, and February Mission, a collection of poems and plays, died July 7 at his home in Tampa, Florida. He had been battling cancer for the past two years.
Jim was a native of Thomaston, Alabama, but had lived all over the world during his long and productive life. In World War II, he was a crewman on B-17 bombers and flew 28 missions over Germany, including one over Dresden that he recalled later in his signature poem, “February Mission.” After the war Jim studied at the University of California at Berkeley and the Sorbonne. He lived in Hong Kong while working for an airline with routes in the Far East, and later in New York, London, Tahiti, and San Francisco while working in the hotel industry. Still later, he joined his brother Stan in a company providing pharmaceutical management services.
Though he achieved great success as a businessman, Jim’s heart was always with literature and writing. He wrote numerous poems, plays, and a novel. He attributed his love for writing to the encouragement he had been given by a high school teacher in rural Alabama. That teacher showed him that he could not only enjoy reading poems, he could write them himself. And he did, until near the end of his life when his final illness overtook him.
Two years ago, in honor of his long-ago teacher, Jim endowed the James Harrell Poetry Prize for Alabama high school students, and he donated copies of his last two books and a collection of poems by Alabama poets laureate to every high school library in Alabama.
Jim was a generous and compassionate man who had a poet’s sensibilities and powers of description. He will be missed.