Relatively settled: A retired pastor and physics teacher,  Jim Harvey’s passions combine faith and science

  • Carved designs and inlaid brass dress up the arms of the rocker. Shisham wood is a kind of rosewood native to the Himalayas. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Jim Harvey sits on a Pakistani shisham wood rocker — the rare piece of furniture where a body in motion tends to stay at rest — at his home in Hadley. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Jim Harvey and his wife, Gerry, build a modular home in Hadley to be near their daughter Lisa, a faculty member at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS


  • Birds, trees and other motifs made of inlaid bone and woods decorate this rosewood chest from southern India and the side table shown above. STAFF PHOTOS/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Another prized Indian table with an inlaid scene. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • This detail shows the masterful workmanship of the rosewood chest. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • This Indian brass water pot with nesting cups belonged to Harvey’s parents. The set enabled farmers to carry water into the fields and share it with others. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • A sandalwood carving of the Hindu god Ganesh rests on a pair of carved walnut nesting tables from Pakistan at the home of Jim Harvey, Monday, Feb. 11, 2019. The carved lamp is also from Pakistan. —STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • A Tibetan temple gong and horn hang on a wall at the home of Jim Harvey, Monday, Feb. 11, 2019. —STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • A brass Indian water pot with nesting cups rests on a walnut carved table from Pakistani Kashmir at the home of Jim Harvey, Monday, Feb. 11, 2019. The carpet is Persian. —STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

For the Gazette
Published: 2/22/2019 11:34:57 AM

In 1937, the year before Jim Harvey of Hadley was born, his grandmother and parents took an overland road trip from their northern India home to Scotland in a Ford station wagon just for fun. It was an adventurous family.

Harvey’s parents were missionaries near what was then Allahabad — now Prayagraj. This city is not only the site of the family home of Jawarhalal Nehru, independent India’s first Prime Minister, but, as Harvey explained it, “Allahabad is a very auspicious place, at the confluence of three rivers, one of them the Ganges.” There are periodic, huge immersions of pilgrims in the rivers — one is going on right now, known as the Kumbh Mela, when literally millions of people descend on Allahabad for this ritual. It’s like Black Friday, Harvey deadpanned. He is known as a master of the throwaway zinger.

Harvey was four and a half when his family departed from India to the U.S. in 1943. For twenty-nine days the troop ship taking them home zigzagged across the Pacific to elude the Japanese, until finally landing in San Francisco. Until then, no one on board had any idea to which port they were headed. “I had my first ice-cream cone in Melbourne, Australia,” Harvey recalled.

Neither of his parents had had a college education before they were fifty, but once the family was settled in Illinois, they went back to school. An outstanding physics teacher in high school inspired Jim to major in physics at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. This was a very competitive program: four hundred started but only thirty-five graduated. Harvey paid for 95 percent of his education himself and had over ninety job offers when he graduated. “That sounds like I’m bragging,” he said, concerned.

At this point, however, he felt a need to rethink his religious foundation (he was the son of missionaries, after all), and got a scholarship to Yale Divinity School to earn a masters degree in religion, a kind of general degree which did not prepare him to become a pastor. “Great faculty,” he remembered.

Religion and science were always his twin passions. He subsequently got a master’s degree in physics at the University of Connecticut, where he met his wife, Gerry. Her parents had often hosted international students at their home, which whetted her appetite to go abroad as well. Given Jim’s background, they visited a number of church missions to see if they could be hired for overseas teaching jobs. Many of those missions had offices on Riverside Drive in New York City, leading to the nickname “Heaven on the Hudson,” Jim recalled with a smile. In 1965 Jim landed a job teaching physics at Gordon College, a former Presbyterian missionary school in Pakistan which had been turned over to the Christian church. Pakistan was a new country for Jim, and he felt a kind of missionary zeal to teach science there. When the Partition of India and Pakistan took place, he said, most trained scientists were Indian, and Pakistan had a real need for well-prepared science teachers.

The Harveys recall the initial crossing from the U.S. to Europe on the Queen Mary as pretty ghastly: sixty-foot waves prostrated Jim in his bunk for six days until they got to England. Their subsequent 19-day voyage from Liverpool to Karachi was much less traumatic. On the second leg Jim had definitely recovered his appetite. “The ship’s chef was from Goa,” Jim recalled with sparkling eyes, “who made wonderful curries and 25 different kinds of Indian pickles and relishes at every meal.”

Their encounter with Pakistani customs when they arrived was memorable. Because he was going to teach physics, Jim had brought along a soldering gun and iron to use in experiments. “Gun?” said the customs official. Unfamiliar with the tool, the official made the Harveys unpack an entire barrel of their belongings until Jim found the item in question and convinced him that it did not use bullets.

Jim and Gerry then boarded a train to travel some 1,000 miles to their destination: Rawalpindi, in the foothills of the Himalayas and close to Kashmir. Jim and Gerry immediately felt the effects of the Indo-Pakistani War of 1965, one of many skirmishes India and Pakistan have had over Kashmir. The first night Jim and Gerry spent at Gordon College, they were sleeping on a mattress on the floor (as the school had not been ready for their arrival) when the Indian Air Force began to drop bombs about a mile from the school. “Was their object to scare the Pakistanis?” I asked. “Succeeded with me.” Jim said, emphatically.

Jim had a five-year contract — from 1965 to 1970 — to teach physics at Gordon College while Gerry volunteered to teach English. She also gave birth to their two daughters, Meg and Lisa, in 1966 and 1968. The Harveys began to learn Urdu, the official language of Pakistan, and Jim shared that “Both of our daughters have Urdu birth certificates.” Professionally, however, Jim was unhappy with the way physics was then taught at Gordon. He said he found the syllabus antiquated and all the memorization rote. He began offering a voluntary study group at 7 a.m. Six students enrolled — four of whom later scored in the top five places on the Punjab state exam.

Ongoing political turmoil eventually led the Harveys to return to Connecticut in 1970. Jim first taught high school physics there, then became a computer programmer for Aetna Life & Casualty Insurance. In yet another career change, he got a master’s degree in divinity from Yale, (which prepares graduates for pastoral duties, as opposed to his earlier degree in religion). He became a pastor in two different Connecticut parishes before retiring for health reasons to Hadley with Gerry in 2002. They wanted to be near their daughter Lisa, a faculty member at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. The Harveys also have two sons: Doug, who they adopted in 1972 and Rich, who they adopted in 1975.

Gerry and Jim now live in Hadley, in a modular house they built and which, the neighbors attested, went up like a mushroom. Large windows look out on Lake Warner — one of the reasons they bought almost two acres of land there in the first place — enabling them to see beaver, herons, eagles and muskrats. Bass and snapping turtles also inhabit the lake. Along with a neighbor, for years Gerry and Jim grew vegetables and donated them to the Not Bread Alone community free meal program.

The missionary ties to India remain. The Harvey Family Foundation established by Jim’s parents helps support a school for two hundred and fifty male and female students in South India. The foundation also offers a tailoring program for poor women, giving them a skill that enables them to move up in the world. Participating in the program qualifies each woman to get an interest-free loan to buy a sewing machine. Important aid on a human scale.

Jim and Gerry’s house has many mementos of their life, including carved walnut tables, some inlaid with other woods and bone; a rocker of shisham wood (a kind of rosewood native to the Himalayas); an Indian carpet; a brass water pot with four cups which belonged to Jim’s parents, and which originally farmers would take out to a field where they worked to share water with others. A special gift of four nested, carved walnut tables came from Jim’s four Pakistani students who excelled on their physics exam. But the most beautiful and intricate of their pieces of furniture is a carved rosewood chest from southern India, inlaid with pictures of birds and trees in many different colors, which Gerry and Jim bought twenty years ago.

Jim has Parkinson’s disease now, so his mobility is more limited, but his mental curiosity is not. He is one of the most active moderators in Five College Learning in Retirement. This spring he’s leading two seminars -- one on Victorian England and the other on Iran. Harvey’s seminars are almost always oversubscribed, and with reason. This is a man of global scope.

Nina M. Scott is Professor Emerita of Spanish from the University of Massachusetts Amherst, and a member of Five College Learning in Retirement. Originally from Germany, Scott is profiling a series of foreign-born Valley residents for the Gazette.


















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