Hall of Fame
: Fitting the Harrells inducted together

Caroline and Robert Harrell Sr. before his death in 2015.
Steve Rogers
Staff Writer

When Robert D. Harrell Sr. and Caroline Bryan Harrell are inducted Tuesday night into the West Point Hall of Fame, Robert Harrell will be smiling.

He won’t be there, but Caroline knows he will be smiling.

“He always was smiling. He’ll be proud and he’ll be smiling down on us,” she said, her voice trailing off slightly as she talked about her husband of 57 years who died March 30, 2015, at the age of 77.

Everyone who knew him always remembered that smile. They being inducted into the Hall of Fame together is fitting. They were the consummate couple, raising seven children, involved in the community and never really asking for recognition.

“He never turned anyone down,” Caroline says wistfully, remembering her husband, whose mission trips around the world, wood carvings, work with the Rotary Club and the First United Methodist Church, and story telling made him a legend on more than one continent.

Their induction is almost like a family reunion of sorts.

The two will join a Hall that includes Caroline’s parents — John H. Bryan Sr., who was inducted in 1984, mother, Catherine Wilkerson Bryan, who was inducted in 1989, her brothers, John H. Bryan Jr. who was inducted in 1994, and George W. Bryan, who was inducted in 1992, and her sister, Catherine Parker Bryan Dill, who was inducted in 1988.
In fact, Caroline tells what she calls a funny story that sums up that family legacy. It also speaks volumes about what she truly has accomplished, quietly and under the radar, as a civic leader and mother.

“My mother was the Mother of the Year for Mississippi in 1979 and we all went to New York with her to support her as she competed against all those mothers from other states. We’d go to different events and each mother would say something about themselves and their families,” Caroline recalled.

Her mother would go through a proud list that included two sons who were tops in the corporate world and a daughter who was the “first Lady of West Point.”

“And I have a daughter who is the mother of seven children,” Caroline said, wrapping up her mother’s soliloquy.

Of all he pioneers in the Hall, taking their place — together — sums up their own legacy and perhaps is as appropriate, if not more so, as any.

“It feels warm, that’s a good way to describe it,” Caroline said when asked of her emotions as the induction approaches.

“I really was thrilled when they told me. We were both born and raised here,” she said referring to her husband with whom she graduated from West Point High School, where he was student body president, in 1955 and married three years later.

“I know all the other inductees from the past, had some connection to them. They were friends with my parents, or we went to church together or knew in the community, were my teachers …” she continued, reflecting on the accomplishment.

As for raising seven children, serving as homeroom mother too many times to count, heading the PTA, band and numerous other parent-related organizations and then serving on the school board for 20 years, after her children got older, it never was anything special in her mind.

“It just comes naturally, you just do it. I never looked at it as being a pioneer. I just knew I cared about schools,” she said of her work.
If she sees a pioneer, it was her mother, who, along with her father, provided an inspiration for all four children.

“My mother helped start the Junior Auxiliary, she started the cafeteria at Bryan Foods to help the workers, she was very, very active,” she noted, speaking especially fondly of working with her mother as a school board member to start the Catherine Bryan Special Needs School.

“If there was a pioneer, it was her and the women who were with her in that time,” Caroline said.
Her father also instilled that spirit, serving on the school board and providing a voice of calm and reason during integration.
Later, Caroline worked with her sister, the late Kitty Dill, on several projects in the community.
“It was just about getting people as passionate as you are together to do something,” Caroline said. “West Point is full of people like that, sometimes it just takes a push.
“I loved working with people on the school board, I still miss that. Next to raising our seven children, that is my biggest accomplishment, I think.
“I like to think we passed on to our children a spirit of giving, of making a difference, of exploring, of adventure, of learning,” she described.

Her children are carving their own niches, from serving in public office to leading community groups like the Junior Auxiliary and their churches.

While the current generation sometimes gets a knock as not being as driven or community-minded as previous ones, Caroline isn’t so sure. In fact, she and a group completed last year a major project, a picture and story book chronicling the history of West Point’s storied high school football program.

It has been praised as a marked achievement and huge success.
“I think people still care just as much, they have a good community and they want to see if grow and be better,” she said, adding, “most of my friends are still active and involved.”
The Hall of Fame inductions will be Tuesday night during the annual West Point Clay County Growth Alliance banquet.

Naomi Kilgore also will be inducted.

While Caroline is looking forward to the moment, and knowing her husband will be there in spirit, she thinks her children and grandchildren may be even more excited.
“They are taking up seven tables, they are so excited.

It’ll be wonderful for us to have them all here,” she said of the family which is seven children, 26 grandchildren, four step-grandchildren, and nine great-grandchildren.