by Henry Lane Hull
The year 1991 witnessed a major transformation in health care in the Northern Neck with the retirement from the practice of dentistry of Dr. John H. Harding Jr. For three-and-a-half decades he rendered superb dental care to patients far and wide across the region, and his retirement was bemoaned by many, but for John H. it was the beginning of several new ventures.
The first of these was his enrollment, along with his late wife, Kay, who died in 2009, in “cow college,” the course offered by Kelly Liddington, the former Richmond County Extension agent, that prepared its students for bovine animal husbandry. Next came the building of a pond on his farm, thereby providing his herd with water and a place to cool off on hot summer days. Finally, came the arrival of the first members of the herd, which has continued to grow over the years.
John H. has his own bull, and his cows offer passing motorists a bucolic scene worthy of a Constable painting. Today he is the recognized authority on raising cattle, and his farm has achieved a greater level of productivity than it did with seasonal crops.
The next venture came with his entry into the field of literature. An undergraduate of the College of William and Mary, upon graduation he taught school for three years before matriculating in dental school at the Medical College of Virginia. With his practice behind him, and his cows happily mooing away, he undertook the writing of his first novel, Shortchanged, an engrossing tale about a local boy during the Korean War.
Once into literature, he followed the first tome with a second, entitled, Alvin, where he again blended historical fiction with his personal reminiscences and experiences. Both of these works received high praise for their originality and their splendid prose. The third of his volumes was A Reluctant Rebel, which describes the life of his ancestor, William Harding of “Springfield,” the Ante Bellum plantation in Heathsville. The book includes pictures of family portraiture, most of which is in private hands and not otherwise available for public viewing. In each of his literary pursuits Kay served as unofficial editor, typist and reviewer.
All of these works contribute to a fuller understanding of the Northern Neck, as seen through the eyes of a native with generations of roots behind him. John H. is also a prodigious gardener who grows numerous varieties of vegetables, and that hobby or avocation reflects his genuine love of the land and its bounty, both of which he has enhanced throughout the course of his life.
In addition to their ongoing relationship to the land was John H. and Kay’s deep interest in aqne who never has changed. His father was a fish boat captain, and his mother was the postmaster at Lilian. Today his sister, Marian Carey, continues to live in the family home across the road from John H.’s farm. Indeed, the crossroads of Lilian could be subtitled “Hardingville.”
John H.’s vast variety of intellectual and hands-on interests are manifestations for our time of the many significant contributions his family has made to the quality of life we enjoy in the Northern Neck. Perhaps the greatest compliment I can pay him is to say that all the years I was his patient I always looked forward to each and every dental visit.
Congratulations, John H.! Ad multos annos!