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Harding, Edmund Hoyt

by Wilson Angley, 1988

10 July 1890–19 Sept. 1970

Edmund Hoyt Harding, salesman, humorist, and promoter of historic restoration, was born in Washington, N.C., the ninth of eleven children of the Reverend Nathaniel Harding and the first produced by his second wife, Marina Brickell Hoyt. His father was for forty-four years rector of St. Peter's Episcopal Church in Washington.

Young Harding received his education in the public schools of Washington and at Trinity School, Chocowinity, from which he was graduated in 1907. His first jobs were those of shoe salesman and later mule salesman in his native town, but he soon began to exhibit signs of the showmanship and infectious humor that would one day bring him national recognition as a speaker and entertainer. From 1924 to 1940 he was a fertilizer and insurance salesman for the Washington firm of William Bragaw and Company.

After 1940, Harding devoted most of his time to speaking engagements, his first speech having been delivered in Newport News, Va., on 6 May 1937. From 1940 until his death, he entertained groups in each of the fifty states, Canada, and Mexico, and gave nearly 5,000 talks. As a speaker and entertainer, Harding combined the qualities of storyteller, clown, and homespun philosopher. His imagination was remarkable, his presentations animated, and his stories seemingly without number. Beginning with Governor R. Gregg Cherry in the late 1940s, he was designated by each governor of the state as "North Carolina's Ambassador of Goodwill."

In 1955, Harding assumed leadership of a nascent movement to preserve and restore historic Bath, North Carolina's oldest town (incorporated in 1706). His production of the pageant, "Queen Anne's Bell," in October of that year gave lasting impetus to this movement. As president of the Beaufort County Historical Society and chairman of the Historic Bath Commission, it was he who made the eventual restoration of Bath a reality.

On 3 June 1914 Harding married Katherine Bragaw of Washington. To this union were born Katherine Blount (14 June 1915) and Rena Hoyt (12 July 1916). Harding's first wife died on 29 Dec. 1954. On 5 July 1969 he married Nina Carolyn Whitley of Aurora, who survived him.

A natural extrovert, Harding was active in numerous clubs and organizations, including the Masons, the Shriners, the Washington Chamber of Commerce, and the Rotary. In 1961, he was president of the North Carolina Society for the Preservation of Antiquities. A lifelong Episcopalian, he served as organist at St. Peter's Church for nearly forty years. He died in Rome, Ga., while returning from a speaking engagement, and was buried in Washington's Oakdale Cemetery.

References:

Wilson Angley, "The Life and Work of Edmund H. Harding" (Historic Sites Section, North Carolina State Archives, Raleigh).

Edmund H. Harding Papers and Memorabilia (Visitors Center, Historic Bath State Historic Site, Bath. also in possession of Mrs. Henry L. Hodges, Washington).

John H. Harding, ed. and comp., Genealogy of the Harding Family in the Eastern Counties of North Carolina (1908).

William S. Powell, ed., North Carolina Lives (1962).

Raleigh News and Observer, 31 Oct. 1954.

Washington Daily News, 5 May 1966, 21 Sept. 1970.

Additional Resources:

North Carolina General Assembly. "A Joint Resolution Honoring the Life and Memory of Edmund Harding and Commemorating the Tercentenary of the Founding of Bath, First Town in the Colony of North Carolina." House Joint Resolution 771. March 26, 2001. http://www.ncleg.net/sessions/2001/bills/house/pdf/h771v1.pdf

Harding, Edmund H. 1955. Queen Anne's bell: [an allegory in two parts and four scenes depicting the history of Bath, North Carolina. Raleigh?, N.C.: The Governor's Commission?.

"Edmund H. Harding: the Tarheel humorist." 1945. University of Iowa. Libraries. Special Collections Dept. http://digital.lib.uiowa.edu/cdm/ref/collection/tc/id/32143

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This article is from the Dictionary of North Carolina Biography, 6 volumes, edited by William S. Powell. Copyright ©1979-1996 by the University of North Carolina Press. Used by permission of the publisher. For personal use and not for further distribution. Please submit permission requests for other use directly to the publisher.

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