WHAT’S IN A NAME: Bob Harding Elementary School

Published 9:00 am Saturday, February 25, 2023

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The key to being a good fisherman, as Robert “Bob” Harding knew, is discipline and patience. It is these same qualities that made him such a strong and beloved principal in the Shawmut community.

Harding served at Shawmut Elementary school from 1946 to 1973. He received his bachelor’s degree in science from the University of Alabama and his master’s from Auburn University. Before becoming the principal of Shawmut school, he was a high school science teacher. 

“He was more than just the principal of the school … He made sure that families had food and when people got down on their luck, he helped them out,” said Bob Harding Morgan, Harding’s grandson. “He traveled up and down that Valley taking care of people his whole life.”

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He was a very active member of Shawmut United Methodist Church. His wife, Margarie Harding, was a teacher at Huguley Elementary. She taught for 30 years. She started teaching at the junior high school, but when Harding needed a teacher in the elementary school, she made the move.

“She was the backbone of him,” said Bob Harding Shawmut Elementary Principal Tana Cannon. 

Margarite kept the nursery at the church with Cannon.

“You can’t talk about him without talking about her,” said first-grade teacher Janet Adamson.

Born in February 1908, in Leeds, Harding lived and served at Riverview school before moving to Shawmut school. Adamson was in first grade in Harding was principal at Shawmut. She remembered the learning environment he created.

“This was a school like no other,” Adamson said. “He set the standard, and it stayed.”

Adamson said he was a strong disciplinarian, who still managed to have the respect of his students. Though she attended BHS for his last few years, she remembers him as a neighbor. 

Beyond being a teacher or principal, Harding’s favorite job was being “Big Papa” to his grandchildren. His daughter, Harriet Morgan, had three sons, who visited their grandfather often and ended up as playmates with Adamson.

She recalled how she often saw Harding pulling out of his driveway in his pickup truck to go fishing. Bob Harding Morgan  recalled the frequent fishing trips to West Point Lake and camping trips during the summers. 

“He was big papa to me … He traveled every summer with an RV. He had an old holiday camper. And he traveled to every state in the United States except Hawaii,” Morgan said. 

Morgan also remembered his grandfather’s dedication to lifelong learning. He was very interested in American Indians and had a collection of arrowheads from every continental U.S. state.

“I don’t even know how big it was … It was hundreds and hundreds of cigar boxes full of arrowheads, where he had picked them up from different places all around the country,” Morgan said.

In 1970, the devoted educator even drove Morgan and his brothers down to Cape Canaveral, Florida, to watch Apollo 13 get launched into space.

“He was just very big on taking us to experience things — historic things,” Morgan said.

Harding was a pillar in the community for so many years that his reach spread out across the Southeast. Morgan recalled one year when Harding met up with a former student in Nashville, Tennessee.

“He took me and my brothers to Nashville because one of the musicians with the grand old Opry was a kid that went to the elementary school,” Morgan said. “He got us on stage at the grand old Opry.”

In 1973, Harding retired from Shawmut Elementary School, but that didn’t mean he retired from educating. Driven by his interest in American Indian cultures, he continued to visit schools to give lectures on their history.

“He was an educator from the word go,” Morgan said. 

Shawmut Elementary was renamed to honor Harding on Oct. 27, 1988. The community was in full support of the final change.

“There’s a difference between helping people and serving people … Serving people requires sacrifice. My grandfather didn’t just help people. He sacrificed,” Morgan said. “He could have always had more or done better, but he sacrificed for the people in that Valley. And I think it’s one of the reasons why they named the school after him.”

Eventually, Harding and Margarie moved to Columbia to be closer to their daughter, Harriet Anna Morgan, and their three grandchildren. He passed away on Jan. 12, 2001, in Columbia, South Carolina.

Before they moved, Harding and his wife were featured in the Valley Times-News in 1998. He spoke about his career, his family and his home.

“It’s the greatest place I’ve ever lived, and if I had another life to live, I’d like to live here in the Valley,” he said. 

Today, Harding is remembered fondly by his former students at Bob Harding Shawmut Elementary. Though she didn’t attend Shawmut school, Cannon knew Harding and his wife from the community.

“I’m very happy to be working somewhere that’s named after someone I knew well,” she said. “It gave me a feeling that this is where I’m supposed to be.”

To continue his memory, Adamson starts every new class by showing the students pictures of Harding and explaining his history with the school. She makes sure that her students know Harding’s legacy before they leave her classroom.

“We all know the name Bob Harding Shawmut, but do we know that Bob Harding was a real person?” Adamson said.