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A Life and a Legacy in Tea

By all accounts, John Harney’s last day was a good one… featuring strawberries.

John was an early and energetic riser, frequently preparing a hearty breakfast for the latest in the endless stream of visitors to his 200 year old house near the center of Sharon, CT at the edge of the Berkshires. He would then walk briskly through the town, greeting neighbors, and patronizing merchants. John always walked briskly, attacking flights of stairs as if there was a prize at the top.

On this day, John encountered a crop of exceptional strawberries at a roadside stand and bought the lot. The afternoon was spent distributing those strawberries to the 160 plus employees at the Harney and Sons Tea factory in Millerton, NY. This was a personal task, from the office staff in the front, to the shipping line in the back. He would look at the labels on the boxes and share stories about the customers.

Mr. Harney died that night, Tuesday, June 17. He did not linger. That would not have been his style. He was 83 years old.

John’s young life was not one of privilege, but he distinguished himself in The Marines, in Cornell University’s School of Hospitality, as an innkeeper, in his community, his church, and ultimately as a champion of the American tea industry.

John loved family and friends above all things. His beloved wife, Elyse, five children, and many grandchildren will carry on John’s legacy of generosity, charity, good humor, hospitality, and fine tea.

His wake was attended by thousands from the local community, every corner of the country, and beyond. After the burial there was a Bar-BQ with a Jazz band in the Harney’s beautiful back yard. Strawberry shortcake was served.