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sailor wins the hat lady

by Jack Williams

The Magic Begins

The magic started when two teenagers met at a bus station in Okmulgee, Oklahoma, at the height of World War II. She was 16, an only child. He was home on leave from the U.S. Navy, the sixth son in a family of 11 children whose father had served as a town marshal in Texas. Before the day ended, the sailor proposed marriage, and she said yes. He offered her a ring, and she took it.

“When I saw him at the bus station, I knew he was the man I wanted to marry,” she says. “Oh, how I loved his beautiful, greenish-gray eyes.”

Their storybook wedding had to wait until the sailor fought across the South Pacific with the Seventh Fleet through 18 major naval battles. He paid a preacher $20 to marry them Wednesday night after prayer meeting on June 6, 1945.

Harrold (80) and Lauretta (Lari) Harrison’s 60-year marriage still sparkles as they take on the world from a West Nashville suburb. Even after four children and a career in publishing, Lari’s eyes turn misty and she smiles like a country girl headed to the county fair when she looks over at the Reverend H.D. Harrison, her sweetheart of six decades.

The Day God Died

“You can tell that I grew up in the Great Depression,” Harrold says. “I never throw anything away. Our family struggled to put food on the table. I was the grocery boy, designated to pick up food after my older brothers worked all day for 50 cents.”

Harrold had no socks, so when the soles of his shoes came loose, his bare feet showed through the holes. He cut rubber strips from an inner tube to fasten the soles in place. One day as he walked past his Sunday School teacher’s house, the rubber binding broke. Seeing the soles flopping, his teacher told Harrold to stop at a certain store after school, get a new pair of shoes, and tell the owner he would pay for them.

Choking with emotion, Harrold says, “I just couldn’t believe anyone would do that for me. A new pair of shoes in the middle of the Depression! Two years later when my Sunday School teacher passed away, I thought God had died.”

Kamikazes and Admirals

Harrold moved to California his senior year in high school to build Liberty ships for $1.26 per hour. He worked midnight to 7:00 a.m. as a shipfitter apprentice and went to high school 8:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. After he turned 18, he joined the U.S. Navy and took basic training in San Diego.

He shipped out to Pearl Harbor where he was assigned to the battleship USS Maryland. The big battleship left the next morning headed for a small Pacific atoll named Tarawa, subsequently firing so many rounds that they damaged the lining in the 16-inch guns. His battle station was the powder magazine where he and another sailor loaded 55-pound bags of powder to feed the main guns.

“We were locked in the powder magazine,” Harrold explains. “If the ship went down, we had no way out.”

When kamikaze planes hit the USS Maryland, Harrold transferred to the USS West Virginia, which was also damaged by kamikaze attacks. After six months in the powder magazine, he moved up to Flag Plot and assisted Admiral I.C. Sowell. From Tarawa to Leyte Gulf to Iwo Jima to Okinawa, the boy from Henryetta fought for his country and the girl he left behind.

“The admiral and I got underneath the plotting table during some of those battles,” Harrold grins.

Seven days after he docked in San Francisco in 1945, Harrold married Lauretta May, the girl he met at the Okmulgee bus station. The embarrassing part? Not only did 17-year-old Lari need parental permission to marry, but so did the 20-year-old sailor who served on two battleships in 18 naval engagements.

Pastor at Heart

Harrold was converted in 1953 at First FWB Church in Weleetka where his brother Ernest pastored. He was licensed to preach a few months later and ordained in 1955. One of the church members home from college for the holidays, a young minister named Dale Burden, told him about Free Will Baptist Bible College.

Harrold sold his business in September 1955, purchased a mobile home, and moved to Nashville where he attended FWBBC before pastoring for seven years in Tennessee and Florida. Later, he graduated from Belmont University and Middle Tennessee State University with bachelor’s and master’s degrees.

“After all this time, I still miss pastoring,” he reflects. “If I could, I’d be pastoring right now, but I can no longer do the visitation and other duties required of a pastor.”

Randall House Calls

The director of the Sunday School Department (Roger Reeds) needed someone he could trust with a big job in 1963. He tapped 38-year-old Harrold Harrison as the department’s promotional secretary. That decision began a 27-year relationship with the agency that became Randall House Publications.

“Roger and I had a great time working together,” Harrold says. “He gave me all the freedom I needed to do my job and the encouragement to proceed with it.”

He stayed on the road promoting Sunday Schools, conducting workshops, and helping launch Bible institutes. He wrote curriculum, edited books, directed teacher training, and served as assistant director. He also found time to write four books.

Two landmark projects mark his Randall House career—the 1978 Who’s Who Among Free Will Baptists and the on-going Randall House Bible Commentary series.

Harrold points to three shelves of double-stacked books, “This is my most valuable contribution at Randall House. When I came on board, we did not have one book in print by Free Will Baptist authors. My most rewarding service has been encouraging Free Will Baptists to write.”

After retiring in 1990, Harrold worked nine years at Free Will Baptist Bible College where he started the external education and distance-learning program.

The Hat Lady

Lari Harrison served beside her husband at Randall House 25 years as a proof reader, Nursery-Pre-School editor, and free-lance writer.

“I retired three times,” she laughs. “Now I’m back proofing commentaries.”

What’s different about Lari? “I have 25 hats,” she declares. “Women used to wear hats to church, and I still do. I find them everywhere—yard sales, national conventions, gifts from others.”

Her favorite hat is a gift from the late Katherine McDonald, a white one with red roses. Harrold squirms when Lari says, “He has only bought me one hat in 60 years.”

Trusting the Foundation

The Harrisons were early participants in the Free Will Baptist retirement program. They later routed those funds to the FWB Foundation in a revocable trust.

“Early on, I knew I could trust the FWB Foundation in money matters,” Harrold says. “The revocable trust generates regular income for us and will as long as we live. When we die, 20 percent of those funds will go to Free Will Baptist Bible College.”

Harrold pauses, “My advice for young ministers is to plan ahead. Be prepared. Start early and stay with it.”

Pussycat with a Bow Tie

Shh-hh, don’t tell, but the ex-sailor likes to wear bow ties. However, his collection is in short supply. “Those people charge $25 for a bow tie!” he growls.

Eyes twinkling, Lari says, “When people first meet Harrold, they think he’s distant and stand-offish. But he isn’t distant at all. Why he’s just a pussycat. At least, he’s my pussycat.”

After more than 30 years as the editor of Contact Magazine, Jack Williams now serves as publications editor for Free Will Baptist Bible College in Nashville, TN. Email Jack at








©2005 ONE Magazine, National Association of Free Will Baptists