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November-December 2011

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In Memoriam: Rex T. Harris (1930–2011)

The cast of characters in the mineral community is always fascinating, and when one of them passes, I begin to remember the best of that individual. Rex Harris was unique—a “good ol' boy” some would say, irreverent with humor, blessed with an infectious laugh, and always ready with a joke.

Born and raised in Delta, Utah, Rex was the fourth of seven children born to Daniel and Cora Harris. He was a medic during the Korean War in the 1950s and returned to Delta to work as a lineman for Utah Power and Light for thirty-two years. In 1952 he was married to Lois Carling in the Salt Lake LDS Temple. She was the love of his life, and they parented five children: Tina, Gary, Dan, Steven, and Maria. There is a total of eighteen grandchildren and twelve great-grandchildren! (I'm dizzy just thinking about Thanksgiving dinner at the Harris house.)

I first met Rex, with his brother Bob, when they were selling septarian nodules. It seems that a good portion of the Harris clan had an interest in minerals and gems.

Bob continues on with his mineral business; a brother-in-law, Loy Crapo (who died ten days before Rex), had the well-known “Bug House” and owned the famous trilobite locality near Delta; and Rex's daughter Tina has had Tina's Jewelry and Minerals, also in Delta, for more than fifteen years.

While Rex and his family were having fun collecting minerals and fossils, he was also a Utah version of “a mountain man.” October always found him, his brothers, sons, and grandsons off hunting deer in the surrounding mountains. He loved the mountains and hunting, and bringing the family Christmas tree back from the mountains was a tradition. He also gathered firewood for the winter and collected wood to make cedar posts.

If this seems not too out of the ordinary, well, do the words “red beryl” get your attention? It was Rex Harris who we can thank for the amazing specimens of red beryl that have hit the market during the past twenty-five years. He was the forward thinker who took over the claims and mined day and night to uncover one of the most exciting mineral finds in the United States. Who could forget the first time we saw these unusual red crystals on a white matrix. Rex's brother Ted (who died two years ago) was the one who brought the deal together to buy the Violet claims from the Hodgkiss family. The claims are still owned by the Harris family, but there is no mining activity currently. (In a twist of history and fate sidebar, it was Arthur Montgomery who first picked around on this locality, and he very much kept it secret, except that he did give the information to Wayne Leicht—at that time a friend of Montgomery's and an active field collector. Unfortunately, we never followed up on it, and the rest is history.) The claims in Utah are the only known locality for these specimens.

The consensus of opinion is that the best specimen was in the John Barlow collection, now in a private eastern collection, but almost every serious collection has a marvelous specimen of red beryl. The faceted stones of this beautiful “red emerald” are among the most collectible of specimens, and given their gooseberry-red color they make for magnificent jewelry pieces.

Time will tell if the legacy Rex leaves behind with the red beryl discovery will live on. I know that I will always be hearing that laugh … it will be so quiet on the mineral landscape without him.

Dona Leicht and her husband, Wayne, have owned and operated Kristalle in Laguna Beach, California, since 1971.

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