Please indulge us while we tell you about our husband/father James David Harrell. We said our heartfelt goodbyes on Thursday, January 9, 2020 at 8:46 in the morning after his courageous battle with brain cancer. He was but 71 years old and the time we had with him just wasn’t enough. He was kind, he was gentle, genuine, modest, passionate about life and family, a consummate gentleman, a scholar and teacher, a writer, musician, craftsman and poet, but above all he was a man of faith, a good neighbor, and to those who knew him, a friend for life.
David was born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and raised in nearby Zachary. He was an active member of his church growing up and played drums in the marching band at Zachary High. He graduated from Centenary College in Shreveport, Louisiana, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in English, played drums in a jazz trio and bassoon in the Shreveport Symphony Orchestra. And of course, he was a lifelong LSU football fan.
He was awarded a graduate teaching assistantship at New Mexico Highlands University in 1970, where he met his future wife, Yolanda. After selling his 5-piece drum set to buy an engagement ring, David and Yolanda were married in 1972 and lived the next eleven years in Birmingham, Alabama, where David joined the English faculty at Jefferson State Junior College. They moved back to New Mexico after the birth of their first child and settled in Santa Fe.
David taught English at Santa Fe Community College for its inaugural semester of 1983, and then began working on his PhD in English at the University of New Mexico, which he earned in 1989. His dissertation, “From Mesa Verde to the Professor’s House,” a biographical/historical study of a novel by Willa Cather shed new light on the discovery of the ruins of Mesa Verde and made significant contributions to the field of Cather studies. David won the George Arms Award for Excellence on the Doctoral Comprehensive Examination and the Tom L. Popejoy Dissertation Prize. His dissertation was chosen for publication by the University of New Mexico Press in 1992. His articles on Willa Cather, Padre Martínez, Edith Lewis, and Mesa Verde were published in various historical and academic journals throughout the years, as were his academic book reviews. We tell you this because David would never; he was so humble about all his accomplishments.
He held several positions in New Mexico state government throughout his career, including Ethics Administrator for the Office of the Secretary of State; Program Officer for the Commission on Higher Education; and Research Analyst for the Legislative Education Study Committee, before retiring as Deputy Director.
He found joy in everything he did, from “woodpile management” (splitting and stacking firewood), to playing the guitar, gardening, landscaping, woodworking, writing and reading. He loved his dogs, Ruff and Bowser, and once submitted for publication an essay he titled “Lessons from the Dog.” He loved his family above all else and he loved doing thoughtful things for them: making pancakes on Saturday mornings and putting so much thought and effort into his kind gifts.
He planned to write an essay titled “So Many Kind People,” as a way of expressing his gratitude to all those who helped him in his struggle with cancer. On David’s behalf, we thank you, friends, neighbors, family, medical professionals and strangers so very much for the many kindnesses you showed him.
David was preceded in death by his parents, Modie James Harrell and Hattie Louise Mangum; his father and mother-in-law, José and Ruth Naranjo and sister-in-law, Lydia Rose Naranjo. He is survived by his wife, Yolanda and children, Jonathan and Kathryn; brother-in-law, Gilbert Naranjo; sister-in-law, LouAnna Hauck and her husband Kevin; nieces, Aileen Kato (Rick), Nadine Martínez (Paul), Roxanne Humphry (Dave) and nephew, Russell Naranjo (Lisa) and their families. Memorial service will be held on Saturday, January 25, 2020 at 10:00 a.m. at St. John's United Methodist Church in Santa Fe, 1200 Old Pecos Trail.
The family of James David Harrell has entrusted his care to the DeVargas Funeral Home & Crematory of the Española Valley. 505-747-7477
To send flowers to the family or plant a tree in memory of James David Harrell, please visit our floral store.