In Memoriam: Nat Harwell

(April 18, 1951-Nov. 11, 2023)

by Brian Knapp

Men much wiser than me told us long ago that time was a thief. I’m not sure I agree. Seated at my desk on Nov. 11, I received the news that Nat Harwell had died at the age of 72. Almost two months later, I continue to struggle to envision a world without him in it. I met Nat in 1990 when he chaperoned my seventh-grade trip to Washington, D.C. His gregarious personality caught me off-guard initially, as I remember him poking fun at me and two of my friends when we got lost in the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History. However, I have always been drawn to history and Nat, at his heart, was a historian. 

I did not see him again until years later, but when I accepted my first job at The Covington News in 1998, he was one of the first people I visited. I know good storytellers when I meet them, and Nat struck me as a good storyteller. I asked him if I could interest him in writing a weekly column for me, and he agreed, perhaps out of pity for the wide-eyed 20-year-old standing in front of him who did not yet know his rear end from a hole in the ground. It remains the smartest professional decision I’ve ever made. Nat’s wit and wisdom lit up the pages of The Covington News for the better part of the next decade and drew us closer together as friends. We stayed connected, even after I left the newspaper in 2006. He offered counsel and support when my wife brought our two boys, Gehrig and Gibson, into the world and made sure I knew he was always there if we needed him. When I helped Scott Tredeau start The Newton Community Magazine in 2018, Nat was my first call. Once again, he agreed to join me on one of my adventures. Writing is a labor of love for all of us, you see, but he never once turned down an assignment. Even after Nat moved to Statesboro, he often made the 90-minute drive back to Covington to interview a subject. I so admire that kind of commitment, dedication and loyalty.

Despite our differences in age—almost 30 years—Nat and I shared so much in common, from our love for sports and a voracious appetite for local Mexican cuisine to struggles with depression and our devotion to the Christian faith as flawed men pursuing a flawless Savior. He was a lot of things to a lot of people. A son. A brother. A husband. A father. A grandfather. A teacher. A coach. A born-again believer. To me, he was a close friend and confidant, someone I knew I could always count on. Those kind of people are exceedingly rare. 

About six weeks before his death, I was lucky enough to meet with Nat and his wife of nearly 50 years, Louise, at El Charro in Covington. It was another reminder that he and I far outkicked our coverage with the angelic women we were blessed to marry. Louise was always the sweet to his salty. None of us knew then that it would be our last time together. Perhaps it was better that way. I can understand how some people might view time as a thief, but it has been my experience that it gives us as much as it takes away. You always want one more phone call, one more text, one more game to attend, one more lunch date that lasts a little longer than it should. Time afforded me some three decades to get to know Nat Harwell. How could I ever complain about that and the richness it brought to my life?

Godspeed, Nat. I’ll see you in eternity. 

Click here to read more stories by Brian Knapp.

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