MARIANNA — A champion of Jackson County citizens, their health and their general welfare was posthumously awarded honors as the recipient of the Excellence in Leadership Award Thursday at the annual Jackson County Chamber of Commerce banquet.
T.G. Harkrider’s mother, Ella Mae Harkrider Harris, his brother, Max, and his sister-in-law, Max’s wife Amanda, accepted the award on his behalf.
Harkrider had started his career with the Jackson County Health Department soon after he graduated from Malone High School in 1990, and would become the state’s youngest Environmental Health Director in history along the way. He was serving in that role, and in many others without title, when he died on March 11 of this year following a sudden, non-COVID-19-related illness.
His mother spoke Tuesday of her late son’s passion for being a servant of the people in a community he dearly loved and was born into in 1972.
She said he was rarely or never without a smile, always brimming over with excitement about his job and the people he served. He was put in charge of COVID-19 response at the health department when that pandemic surfaced and spread last year, and led with precision as the team rolled out the vaccine effort with all its challenges.
Harris said he got a tattoo on his forearm in 2020, explaining to her that the hourglass he had inked there was a symbol reminding him not to waste his time.
There was an irony in that, it became clear, as she talked of his near-constant schedule of service to the people and in pursuing a dream he had for his retirement years.
He wasn’t planning to stop when his career with the health department drew to a close in a couple of years as he anticipated. He was looking down another avenue that would allow him to continue helping people in crisis. He was getting close to a University of Alabama-Birmingham (UAB) doctorate in nursing practice specializing in the field of metal health.
Harris on Thursday thanked the community for honoring his family and his memory with the award, and asked the professionals and their team players to use that hourglass image in their own lives — to remind themselves not waste time but to continue striving toward excellence no matter what the challenges that might threaten to weigh them down.
Harkrider’s boss, Sandy Martin, also spoke about him as a man driven to help, in an immediate way, when asked, and as a person who “lived and led with his heart.”
A few minutes after Harkrider’s award was bestowed and accepted by his family, Martin got a surprise that left her stunned in the moment.
She was named the Jackson County Citizen of the Year that night. Her face registered shock when her name was called, and meanwhile, Harris beamed at her and the fact that her son and his boss would have this shared night of honor.
Rounding out the night’s award presentations, Rhonda Smith was recognized as the Chamber’s Board Member of the Year that evening.
And the banquet’s keynote speaker, Florida Secretary of Commerce Jamal Sowell received a special gift that evening.
His grandmother was born and raised in Jackson County’s Two Egg community. He talked about the special quality of the people who live, work and play in that and other Jackson County communities, and how that character plays as important positive as businesses are courted to make themselves at home in Florida. After he was done, Jackson County Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Tiffany Garling presented him with a big green replica of the road sign signifying entry into Two Egg.
It also included a small statement naming him an honorary Jackson Countian.
The night’s festivities finished with the passing of the gavel from current Chamber Board of Directors Chairman Lindsy Milton to incoming chair Ben Odom.