Ernest H. Harper, M.D., 83, passed away at his home peacefully and with dignity at 3:05 a.m., October 23; his children had kept constant vigil at his bedside during his final hours. The passing of Dr. Harper (“Sonny,” as he was known to his family and close friends) brings to a close the life story he shared with his wife of fifty-seven years, Louise, whom we lost all too early in 2007. Dr. Harper’s passing only closes a chapter of that story, however, not the book, because those things and people which guided their lives the most, and for which they worked lovingly and tirelessly, their children and grandchildren, live on, each of them shaped and strengthened by the timeless values Sonny and Louise instilled in them. So while each of them has left this earth, the legacies of Sonny and Louise continue.
Dr. Harper achieved and experienced many things in this life, both professional and personal. He became a physician through sheer strength of will and spirit. Though he was married with two children when he began medical school, he defied all who said he would not gain admittance to, much less graduate from, medical school. Fiercely determined, he did graduate, the odds and opinions of others notwithstanding. He then went on to realize considerable success as a prominent internist, for decades a partner in the Little Rock Diagnostic Clinic, at one time serving as its president. He received countless accolades not only from his peers and medical organizations, but also from so many of his patients and staff.
In addition to his love of medicine, Sonny loved the Arkansas Razorbacks. He was an avid, unapologetic fan dating from the advent of the Broyles era in the days of the old Southwest Conference. Names like Wayne Harris, Lance Alworth and Jerry Moore (whose father, J.P. Moore, became a treasured friend of Sonny’s) were revered names in his house. Sonny and his dearest friend and medical partner, the late Michael N. Harris, M.D., followed their beloved team to every corner of the Southwest Conference, from College Station to Ft. Worth to the Cotton Bowl to Lubbock — a 12-hour drive did nothing to deter them! He was also a tennis enthusiast, displaying his (modest) tennis skills and fiery temperament on the courts of the Country Club of Little Rock, he and Louise playing in weekly mixed doubles matches with their many friends, followed immediately by dinner and camaraderie, all of which became a weekly ritual for many years. Though he never learned – nor tried – to become a gracious loser, those were peak years for both Sonny and Louise, and they brought great joy to their lives.
Although his family considers him to have been a great man and father, he would not want to be remembered in death for what he was not in life. He at times suffered the same shortcomings that befall us all, sometimes not meeting standards even he set for himself. Still, those occasional shortcomings pale in comparison to the good he did and the good he has left behind. When Louise suffered a debilitating stroke in 2000, he left the lucrative field of medicine to care for her in their home when she could no longer care for herself. He did so without complaint for seven years, though at great physical, personal and financial cost to himself – he never regretted it.
Dr. Harper was, perhaps above all else, undaunted and fearless. If he could speak to us now, among the final messages he would have for his children and grandchildren can be expressed by borrowing from and paraphrasing the eloquent words of Tennyson:
Death closes all, but work of noble note may yet be done … it is not too late to seek a newer world … to sail beyond the sunset … and all of the western stars … It may be that we shall touch the Happy Isles and see the great ones whom we knew, and though much has been lost, much abides … that which we are, we are … made strong in will to strive, to seek, to find, and never to yield.
Sonny is survived by five children, Ernie (Laura) of North Little Rock, David (Carol) of Ft. Smith, Craig (Karyn) of Springdale, Anna (Steve) of Little Rock, and Angie (David) of Ft. Smith, and by fifteen grandchildren and four great grandchildren.
The family would like to offer its heartfelt thanks to Sonny’s caregivers, Dawdi Manga and Ryan Mbakile, our Tanzanian friends from Visiting Angels, who became much more than caregivers to Sonny – they became his friends and companions, and we are indebted to them.
The family asks that, in lieu of flowers, memorials be made to either Arkansas Children’s Hospital or St Jude’s in Memphis or the Pulaski County Humane Society.
Funeral services were held at 2 p.m. on Saturday, October 26, at Trinity Episcopal Cathedral in Little Rock. www.ruebelfuneralhome.com.