Cliff Harriger, former mayor, remembered as devoted public servant, family man
With the passing of former Greenville mayor and U.S. Army veteran Cliff Harriger, Greenville has lost a dedicated family man and resilient public servant, said friends, former colleagues and family members Thursday.
Clifford H. Harriger, 86, passed away early in the morning Wednesday at home, leaving behind a family and a community he helped forge through a steadfast nature and deep faith in God.
Beckie Erwin, one of Harriger’s six daughters, called her father a man of resilience who took immense pride in serving his community.
“What Dad is most proud of was being mayor of Greenville,” she said. “Nothing that he has ever done gave him more satisfaction and more pride than representing this town as mayor. To this day, he has his gavel on his desk.”
As a council member, Harriger forged a friendship with state Sen. Bob Robbins, with whom he worked on projects such as the Bannick parachuting events at the Greenville Airport of the 1990s. The pair was also active with local veterans’ organizations, and Harriger participated in local Memorial Day ceremonies each year.
“He was a good friend (to the state senator), and a great community leader for Greenville over a period of many years,” said Robbins’ Chief of Staff Mike Hengst of the relationship Harriger and Robbins shared.
The senator was traveling Thursday and unavailable for direct comment.
In Greenville, Harriger leaves a legacy of public service friends and former colleagues say was built during a critical time for the borough.
“He was very easy to work with, and he was willing to do anything and had the interest of the community in the decisions he made,” she said.
Three years after assuming the president’s chair, Harriger resigned his seat to become mayor — an office he held for three terms, until being unseated by Dick Miller in 2005.
Miller said the two became good friends in the wake of that election, and he often relied on Harriger’s wisdom during his time in office.
“Cliff was more laidback than I was,” he said. “He didn’t use the mayor’s seat as a bully pulpit, but he did use the mayor’s office to extend the good relations of the borough. He always represented the borough with dignity and pride. There were times I thought, ‘You know, if you had any brains, you’d have let him keep on going.’”
Miller and current borough council President Brian Shipley said Harriger was a consummate pol who was involved in politics at the county and state level, and always sought to advance the causes of Greenville through that work.
Shipley said Harriger’s work in those arenas spanned more than 20 years, and extended from things such as poll work and grassroots petition efforts to volunteer work in and around Greenville.
“He was a genuinely honest and decent guy who you knew cared about the community,” Shipley said. “If something needed to get done, you knew Cliff was gonna be there, and he was going to get the job done right.”
“He was a good Republican, and he played that side of the (political) process to the maximum for Greenville,” Miller said. “He was very good that way.”
It’s a legacy family friend John O’Malley said figured large in his own family’s decision to re-locate to Greenville more than a decade ago. “It was his example of people leading in a small town that attracted us” to Greenville, O’Malley said. “He was the epitome of planting roots in a small town and leaving a legacy.”
He said Harriger’s strong character and softspoken attitude often gave people comfort and assurance, pointing to the years he spent serving as a crossing guard at East Elementary School.
“To me, it was like, here’s this man who doesn’t need to do this, out there doing it,” O’Malley said; he said Harriger’s presence provided him a level of comfort when the family’s children began attended public school from St. Michael School.
“What a great face for those kids to see every day, and what a comfort to parents,” he said. “I just always knew he took that job very seriously.”
He was also a man of abiding faith, said Mearl Henley, the former pastor of Calvary United Methodist Church, where Harriger was an active member for more than 50 years.
“I don’t know how to explain it. He was a very professing Christian believer,” Henley said. “His Christian witness was outstanding; he was a good man.”
Harriger served the larger Methodist church organization in the region as well, and was vicepresident and president of Western Pennsylvania United Methodist Men in the Franklin District, and active in the district for more than 25 years — a commitment Henley said is no small feat.
“It takes a dedicated individual” to run an organization like that, Henley said. “One who’s willing to give of his time to do the job. (Harriger) was always available to help, and the work he did was always outstanding. He’s a very faithful Christian man and dedicated to serving the Lord.”
Harriger also served his country. He registered for and was drafted by the U.S. Army in 1944, and sent to the South Pacific in June 1945, where he served with forces occupying Japan and later as a newspaper writer and printer.
He remained active in local veterans’ organizations until his death, and spoke last year at the Greenville American Legion’s Memorial Day ceremonies.
Harriger’s service in World War II ended in November 1947, but he continued to seek service in the armed forces, reenlisting as a member of the Army Reserves twice before accepting discharge in 1951 to return home to his wife, Ann, and their newborn daughter.
He would remain at his Columbia Avenue home in Greenville for the next 50 years, a family man his daughter Beckie said will always be remembered for his loving nature.
“His smile; always a smile when one of us walked in the room. He was always happy to see us,” she said of how she will remember her father. “It didn’t matter how sick he was or what kind of day he was having, if we walked in(to) the room, he was happy.”