Chance Encounters with Bob Flaherty: The coming of bees puts South Hadley man in high spirits

Kim Harwood at the Community Gardens in South Hadley.

Kim Harwood at the Community Gardens in South Hadley. Courtesy/BOB FLAHERTY

Kim Harwood at the Community Gardens in South Hadley.

Kim Harwood at the Community Gardens in South Hadley. BOB FLAHERTY

Published: 04-28-2024 6:01 PM

Modified: 04-29-2024 10:41 AM

SOUTH HADLEY— Amid the cheerful greenery popping out everywhere like peepers, a red and black plaid mackinaw will pull you in every time. Inside the coat and under a pulled-down brim smiles Kim Harwood, hard at work with both shovel and spade at the South Hadley Community Garden off Route 47.

“Gotta get ahead of the weeds,” he said, rising to greet the unexpected columnist, who assures him that he doesn’t have to get up.

“I like to see if I still can,” he grinned, pushing off the portable kneeling rig that has no name other than “Savior. Without this I wouldn’t be as useful.”

The knees have been known to creak. By the time everything’s busting out all over in June, Harwood will have turned 80.

At the moment he has the place to himself, but his sole interest is in his family’s double-plot in the corner by the gate. “This is our pollinator garden,” he points with the spade, “with plants that are attractive to bees. It’s been working pretty well in recent years.”

“Everybody in gardening is attuned to the plight of bees,” he said. “They seem to be an endangered species.”

As for the names of those particular plants used in the operation, Harwood winked, “You got the wrong party. You should be speaking to higher management.”

That would be his bride of 47 years, Kathleen. “She’s the brains behind it all,” he smiled. “I do stuff like this.”

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Harwood also admits to feeling under-dressed in the presence of media. He spent 43 years impeccably turned out, managing a very high-end retail antique jewelry giant, James Robinson, Inc. in Manhattan, living a life of style and elegance. “Our clientele was straight out of ‘Who’s Who,’” he says. “People I met and dealt with — it was just a wonderful experience.”

Name drop?

“I shouldn’t,” he chuckled. “That was part of our thing. It was pretty discreet.”

He recently visited his old firm and was astonished to see the new guard dressed so casually. As one young rep told him: “You and the undertakers — you’ll be the last ones.”

“He’s probably right,” Harwood concedes, “but I tend to think I’d still put on a suit. The surroundings seemed to demand it.”

Spark of a long romance

“It was fate,” he said. “Kathleen was in Boston when I met her. She was an appraiser at Christie’s. I convinced her to marry me and move to New York City.”

Hard sell?

“No, it was the right thing and we both realized it.”

Still in love?

“You bet. We have a lot of common interests, but all the interests in the world won’t work if the chemistry’s not there.”

His idea of the perfect date?

“Living with her day in and day out is a perfect date for me,” he said. “She’s very special, the best thing that’s ever happened to me, that’s for sure.”

Upper management, Kathleen Harwood, that is, was reached by phone. She corroborates her husband’s love-at-first-sight recollection. She said it wasn’t simply a shared interest in priceless art that brought them together.

“We both loved New York and we both loved martinis,” she laughed.

An antiques appraiser, Kathleen Harwood is well known to viewers of PBS’ “Antiques Roadshow,” a gig she did for 28 years. “It was a terrific time, but it was work,” she said. Time to catch up on other things, not to mention five grandsons.

Though retired from on-camera work she’s still involved with the show in an advisory capacity. “What something was worth in 1998 and what it’s worth today can be very dramatic,” she said.

But green-thumbing outside has always been part of the equation for the Harwoods, from their earliest days in Brooklyn to the veggie and ornamental masterpieces they’ve created since.

To work in harmony with bees Kathleen plants phlox, minerva, Joe Pye, rudbeckia, chives and butterfly weed. “They love it,” she says. “The dahlias open up in September for late-season bees — you can have three or four bumblebees on one blossom.”

There are two mugs that find space in the couple’s kitchen. One says Head Gardener, the other Under Gardener. It may be inferred that the latter is the one toiling today under April sun.

Pointing to sections of dug-up earth and anticipating what will soon be in full leafy swing brings a twinkle to Kim Harwood’s eye as he rests to chat. “The rhubarb is fantastic. One of our grandsons is a fanatic about rhubarb. It’s season is coming up so he’ll be thrilled.”

Mostly for strawberry rhubarb pie, right?

“No, he’ll literally take a stalk and chew on it,” he laughed.

The couple’s son Kim Harwood III is a stonemason in Amherst, known for his innovative walkways and mosaics, while son Christopher teaches at Columbia.

Pipe dream

Kim Harwood retired some 20 years ago and the couple left the big city for a house on a lake in very rural Pennsylvania. “I cast about as to what I could do and there was all this talk about how they needed a library. They had this fundraising professional who did a study by walking around asking people: ‘How much money would you give?’ So he comes back with the conclusion that this will never work, that the most we could ever raise was $500,000. One of the county commissioners told me it was a complete pipe dream.”

But Harwood has a way with people, and an ever-present glint in his eye. “I said to myself ‘Get your feet wet and get in there and try.’ ”

Harwood worked 11 years on the quest, helping to raise $9 million from the community alone. “I just tried to sell the project. It got to the point where people would cross to the other side of the street when they saw me,” he laughed.

One of the earliest champions of the project, the library board’s president, fell sick. “She became housebound and I’d visit her and keep her up to date on where we were. She’d say, ‘You really think this will happen?’ ‘Yes, I really do,’ I said. Things started to progress. She died and she left us over a million dollars, which took us over the top! Nobody saw it coming.”

The library opened in 2017, but the Harwoods were in South Hadley by then.

“Rural Pennsylvania became too rural, too much to take care of as we got older. We needed to act like adults,” he grins.

The culturally attuned couple, who already knew the Valley pretty well, fell in with its steady offerings in theater and music.

“The nature of the people here — it’s just invigorating,” said Harwood. “Even if you don’t do as much running around in the evening as we used to, there’s an atmosphere here. It’s got everything, really.”

Though he volunteers for Neighbors Helping Neighbors and his wife with the Fisher Home, Kim figures his large scale fundraising days are behind him now.

“Up there they needed me,” he smiles. “Around here they don’t need me. We’ve got plenty of very involved, very passionate people here who make things happen.”

“That’s the kind of thing that was so enchanting to us,” he said, vigorously working the corner where the garlic and herbs will go.

Bob Flaherty, a longtime author, radio personality and former Gazette writer and columnist, writes a monthly column about our neighbors going about their daily lives.